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Patient Info for da Vinci Surgical Robot Procedures Often Just Sales Pitches

Jul 24, 2012 | Parker Waichman LLP

Patients contemplating invasive surgeries using the da Vinci Surgical Robot are likely only to be fed sales pitches and “boilerplate” ad copy from any hospital that has the technology.

According to a Reuters report, a new study conducted in the U.S. by researchers at Columbia University reviewed the Web sites and other online information posted by 432 hospitals which use the da Vinci robot found nothing more than the standard industry lines regarding the alleged safety and effectiveness of the robot. One in six women who saw information through a hospital Web site were told they “owe it to yourself” to consider having several gynecological procedures done with da Vinci over a surgeon.

Half of the hospitals specifically pitched da Vinci’s ability to perform endometriosis and cervical cancer surgeries. One-fourth of the hospitals’ sites reviewed used ad copy exclusively and directed viewers to no clinical research or contained no information regarding the very real dangers of relying on da Vinci for these surgeries. The study found “almost none” of the copy posted online mentioned potential drawbacks of the surgeries conducted using a da Vinci Surgical Robot.

The da Vinci robot’s presence in hospitals is more ubiquitous by the day. The da Vinci robot is manufactured by Intuitive Surgical and there are at least 2,200 devices in hospitals worldwide. More are installed as hospitals believe its presence in their facility makes them a more attractive and advanced option for patients facing these surgical procedures.

In addition to gynecological procedures, the da Vinci was first used in prostate cancer procedures but its apparent success in that field sparked an interest in broadening its range. It now includes gallbladder surgeries, hysterectomies, and other other female-specific surgeries. Every year, those few thousand machines are conducting hundreds of thousands of surgeries in place of a human surgeon.

The da Vinci is hardly fail-safe and as use of it increases, the number of people who’ve experienced complications caused by a malfunction of the robot surgeon continues to grow. And while the surgical robot does appear to have a few advantages over a procedure conducted by a human surgeon, including being a less invasive procedure and has the potential for less recovery time, there are complications to having the surgery with the robot.

Among the hospitals pitching their use of the da Vinci robot online, just 15 percent of those facilities directed users to any clinical data showing benefits of the device or used data from a study in its marketing.

A previous study on the false or misleading marketing of the da Vinci robot found that hospitals were making decisions to not only install the device but to use it for an expanded array of surgeries based on information they were fed from marketing materials, including the belief that not having a da Vinci robot could adversely impact their business because so many of their competitors did.

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