Health News Review

The Watchdog’s elves are everywhere this Christmas season, and one of them reports that a New Jersey medical center is promoting its robotic surgery system in a very upscale mall.

This particular elf took a photo to send to Watchdog Santa.

It turns out that a local news website added to the medical center’s free publicity.  The story states that local doctors demonstrating the robotic system claimed:

“robotics has really changed a lot of surgeries and recovery times – particularly hysterectomies, and surgeries for cancers and tumors. “It’s so much less invasive,” (one) said. “And patients recover so much more quickly, in some cases going home the next day.”

Mall shoppers, on the other hand, were probably not told things like:

  1. The long learning curve for surgeons – one analysis showed that 3 experienced surgeons needed more than 1,600 cases to achieve acceptable outcomes with robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy.  A little bit different than showing shoppers how to manipulate rubber bands or pennies in the mall.
  2. With 2,000 of these $ million machines in place, how many surgeons have done 1,600 prostates?
  3. A 2010 study showed robot-assisted hysterectomies were associated with longer surgical times and cost an average of $2,600 more.
  4. A recent story in Family Practice News reported that a recent explosion of interest in robotic surgery for routine hysterectomies and treatment of other non- oncologic gynecologic conditions is raising concern about the cost and comparative value of the robot over conventional laparoscopy.
  5.  In 2010, for the first time, more hysterectomies were performed with the da Vinci Surgical System than any other procedure, including prostatectomy.
  6. There have not been any large-scale randomized trials of robot-assisted surgery, and some doctors believe that “limited observational evidence fails to show that the long-term outcomes of robot-assisted surgery are superior to those of conventional procedures.”
  7. Bloomberg told the story of a urologist who confesses he was seduced by the robot. But that surgeon now rails against hospitals’ “tawdry marketing more familiar on late-night infomercials by using patient testimonials. “I cannot believe how quickly I recovered,” a vigorous-looking patient is quoted as saying. As a surgeon I have to ask: Where is the data?”

Tawdry marketing?

Ho, ho, ho.

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