Bloomberg continues bulldog reporting on robotic surgery risks

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.


Follow us on Twitter:

and on Facebook.


Comments (2)

We Welcome Comments. But please note: We will delete comments that include personal attacks, unfounded allegations, unverified facts, product pitches, profanity or any from anyone who doesn't list what appears to be an actual email address. We will also end any thread of repetitive comments. We don't give medical advice so we won't respond to questions asking for it. Please see more on our comments policy.

Gary Schwitzer

October 8, 2013 at 8:56 pm

Reminder to those wishing to leave a comment. My clearly-stated comments policy says that we will not publish comments from people who don’t list an actual email address.

Leave your actual name and an actual email address and abide by the rest of the comments policy, and I’d be happy to post your comment.

Gary Schwitzer