Tough questions missing on robot story

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The Star Tribune offered a business section feature yesterday on local doctors finding new uses for the $1.2 million Da Vinci robotic surgery devices.

At $1.2 million, you bet they want to and need to find new uses.

The story explained that the robotic device came on the market just 8 years ago, that Minnesota hospitals started using it just three years ago., and that there are already nine da Vincis in the state.

But the story failed to address the obvious followup questions: how many does a state or a community need? Who’s asking these questions?

The story was also completely devoid of any performance data on risks and benefits.

Finally, the story included a quote from a urologist using the device, who said

that getting the da Vinci was “physician driven,” as doctors saw its benefits. Then its use became “patient driven,” as people went to the Internet and discovered there was another way to have their surgeries done.

Such a comment can’t go unchallenged. If physicians and hospital marketing folks weren’t pushing the expensive devices, there would be no “patient driven” move.

Medical technology assessment in the U.S. is a huge question. This story didn’t deliver many answers.

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