Health News Review

See Robert Langreth’s piece, “Robot Surgery Damaging Patients Rises With Marketing.”

Langreth reflects on a familiar tale:

  • Promotions that emphasize benefits, minimize or ignore harms
  • “another breakthrough in robotic surgery”
  • “Star Wars” comparisons

Excerpt from the story:

“Robotic surgeries are on the rise, fueled by aggressive marketing by doctors, hospitals and Intuitive Surgical Inc. (ISRG), which manufactures the $1.5 million robot. Advertising on hospital and doctor websites, YouTube videos, billboards, and on radio and television has hyped the advantages of robotic surgeries, often claimed fewer complications without proof, and ignored contradictory studies finding no advantage in some cases.

Not Proven

Robot operations haven’t been proven in randomized trials to offer significant health benefits compared to standard, less-invasive surgery and multiple studies show they can cost thousands of dollars more.

U.S. hospitals used robot-assisted surgery in more than 350,000 operations last year, a 60 percent jump since 2010. Robotic surgery is used to perform hysterectomies, gall bladder removals, prostate cancer treatment, heart valve operations, and many other soft tissue operations. And half of general surgeons plan to add robotic systems within two years in response to general demand, according to a JPMorgan Chase & Co. survey reported Oct. 3.

“If there was a Nobel Prize for marketing, it would go to Intuitive Surgical,” said John Mulhall, an urologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, which performs prostate cancer surgery with and without the robot.

FDA Flaws

The rise of Intuitive’s robot surgery also shows flaws in how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates the marketing of medical devices, which includes everything from radiation therapy machines to implanted devices such as artificial hips and cardiac defibrillators to drug infusion pumps to surgical instruments and surgical robots.

The FDA has just two full-time employees dedicated to evaluating medical device ads, including those involving robotic surgery, compared with a full office of more than 60 people watching over prescription drug promotion.”

We’ve written about Bloomberg’s coverage of these issues before.

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Comments

Gary Schwitzer posted on October 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm

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Bruce Parker posted on October 15, 2013 at 10:04 am

Gary: I looked closely at this 5 years ago, and chose robotic prostatectomy. I did understand that the outcomes for the best of the experienced surgeons performing open prostatectomy matched the outcomes for the best of the moderately experienced daVinci surgeons. I made a guess, and have only anecdotal evidence to offer: My experience could not have been better in the old world, and may have been better than the old world. Careful, shaky conculsions. Pathology confirmed surgery was the right choice, and in time. -Bruce Parker