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Urologist confesses he was seduced by a robot

Maggie Mahar’s Health Beat blog tipped me off about a Bloomberg opinion piece by an Oregon urologist that begins by stating:

“The decision to opt for medical care that relies on the most costly technology is often based on blind faith that newer, elaborate and expensive must be better.”

Later, he focuses specifically on robotic surgery devices:

“They are costly and require significant re-training for surgeons. Yet consumers hungrily seek out surgeons versed in their use. If a surgeon recommends an older, less expensive technology, many patients will shop for a surgeon willing to use the newest and costliest devices, even if the added benefits are unproven and the risks may be greater.

Hospitals do nothing to discourage this and engage in the kind of tawdry marketing more familiar on late-night infomercials by using patient testimonials. “I cannot believe how quickly I recovered,” a vigorous-looking patient is quoted as saying.

As a surgeon I have to ask: Where is the data? Was the recovery any quicker than in a procedure done without a robot? Would another surgical approach have served the patient as well? And cost a lot less?

We are all keepers of the health-care system treasury. In making treatment choices, physicians and patients alike would do well to ask: “If I were paying for this out of my own pocket would I choose this treatment, or am I just being wowed by the cool factor at someone else’s expense?”

In the first decade of practice I was enthralled with the amazing new technology. Moving into my second decade I hope to temper some of that enthusiasm with a bit of good old-fashioned fiscal responsibility.”

It should be noted that the urologist/author discloses in the editorial that he is is founder of a medical device company with its own surgical system.

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Susan FItzgerald

March 21, 2011 at 12:46 pm

There’s slighly altered version in the doctor’s (and my)hometown newspaper, The Oregonian:
http://www.oregonlive.com/opinion/index.ssf/2011/03/health_care_costs_seduced_by_n.html
It is so refreshing to see a surgeon talking about cost versus effectiveness. Of course, the scary part was mentioning millions of dollars of equipment gathering dust in the hospital’s basement –not because it doesn’t work but because something “new and improved” came along…