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Small town, small hospital example of how robotic surgery is promoted

Lest anyone think that the recent studies showing how marketing is driving up the use of robotic prostatectomy (see yesterday’s post, “Ads & news (often resembling ads) fuel growing use of robotic prostatectomy“) is just academic hypothesis, let me roll out what promoters often do – an anecdote.

After yesterday’s post, a physician (who wished to remain anonymous) wrote me:

“Gary, I saw your post today about the Da Vinci robotic surgery system. I need to get this off my chest.

I know a small town physician.

Several months ago, the DaVinci was foisted on this physician’s relatively small local hospital because the hospital was rapidly losing market share to other hospitals.

So the hospital agrees to get the robot, and this doc is “recruited” to be a leading spokesperson on behalf of the robot. Prior to the robot, the physician was a skeptic. After the robot, the doc became a leader.

The real issue–and why I am writing you–is this question about web advertising and news reporting.

The hospital has run a number of ads (with this physician’s name and picture) about the robot, in the local newspaper which also did a front page news story on the device.

When I asked the doc about the quotes in the story, I was told that they had been written by the hospital PR department and “approved” after the fact by the physician.

As I read the quotes, I was appalled. In looking at the quotes, they certainly appear to be something that very possibly came from DaVinci itself. The physician was never contacted by a reporter. There was no critical thinking on the part of the newspaper or the reporter, whoever that may have been. Basically, a “puff piece” place prominently on the front page as the most significant piece of news in town that day.

So now the physician is getting more business and I suspect the hospital is happy. All the time now, patients comment about the wonderful article and the doc’s smiling picture in the newspaper.

If deceptive advertising with unproven claims is happening in this small town, it’s happening everywhere. And I find that particularly sad.”

One anecdote, but a true story from small town, small hospital America. And an insider’s glimpse of how new technologies proliferate in the US health care economy.

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