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Robotic prostatectomy love affair driven by marketing

Gina Kolata’s NYT piece, “Results Unproven, Robotic Surgery Wins Converts,” looks at how “robot-assisted prostate surgery has grown at a nearly unprecedented rate.”

Excerpts from the story:

• “..robot-assisted prostate surgery costs more — about $1,500 to $2,000 more per patient. And it is not clear whether its outcomes are better, worse or the same.”

• “Meanwhile, marketing has moved into the breach, with hospitals and surgeons advertising their services with claims that make critics raise their eyebrows.”

• “Medical researchers say the robot situation is emblematic of a more general issue. New technology has sometimes led to big advances, which can justify extra costs. But often, technology spreads long before investigators know whether it is worthwhile.”

• “…a situation like robot-assisted surgery illustrates how patients may end up making what can be life-changing decisions based on little more than assertive marketing or the personal prejudices of their surgeon.

“There is no question there is a lot of marketing hype,” said Dr. Gerald L. Andriole Jr., chief of urologic surgery at Washington University. Dr. Andriole does laparoscopic prostate surgery, and although he tried the robot, he went back to the old ways.

“I just think that in this particular instance, with this particular robot,” he said, “there hasn’t been a quantum leap in anything.”

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