Health News Review

Canadians may have thought they had been transported south of the border, where robotic surgery is widely and wildly promoted all the time.

But this week, for World Cancer Day, The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation posted this fundraising plea:

The website explains: “Give 6 patients the best surgery while changing cancer care internationally with your gift to robotic surgery. ”

In calling robotic surgery “the best surgery,” the promotion ignores mounting questions about evidence. You can peruse the search results just from this blog to get a taste of these evidentiary questions.

And the Toronto Star raised other questions about the fundraising campaign in a piece,Does cancer fundraising ad go too far?” Excerpt:

A new fundraising campaign has left some wondering whether the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation has gone a little too far in hitting up prospective donors for cash.

As part of a crowd-funding effort, an email has been sent to hospital donors and supporters saying that $15,000 must be raised by Feb. 4 so that six cancer patients can have surgery.

“Six people need this surgery. . . . The surgery isn’t possible without you. Please donate today. I’m coming to you because there is no other way,” says the email signed by Laura Syron, the foundation’s vice-president of community programs.

The problem is cancer surgery is publicly covered under medicare, so the ad is a bit of a head-scratcher.

Dr. Bob Bell, president of the University Health Network, which includes Princess Margaret, acknowledges the six patients in question will still get surgery even if the money is not raised.

They just won’t get high-tech robotic surgery that the hospital is testing out as part of a study, he explained. Instead, they would get standard surgery — for example, open or laparoscopic surgery.

“I can understand what you’re saying,” he said, when asked if the ad leaves the wrong impression.

In the story, York University marketing prof Alan Middleton says:

“Is it overstatement? Yes. Is it stretching the truth? Yes,” he said.

“But is it likely (to be) more effective in raising money, and therefore have a positive effect, not just on the six people, but on their trial? The problem is, the answer is also yes.”

Middleton said competition for charitable dollars is fierce and that if the hospital simply asked for money for a study, it wouldn’t be very successful.

“This is hyperbole to prompt a better donation rate,” he said.

Get ready for more, Canadians.  We’ve seen a lot of overstatement, stretching of the truth, and hyperbole in U.S. marketing of robotic surgery – and we’re undoubtedly sending it all your way.

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