Latest example in how hospitals promote robotic surgery: “tasteless” says one journalist

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This week we’ve already written about marketing of “preventive MRI scans” and of a free nose job promotion.

I often write about these medical marketing messages because I think the public should see some of the promotions that go on behind the scenes to try to convince journalists to write about treatments, tests, products and procedures.  These messages become part of the flood of claims about health care that drown the American public every day.

Today several journalists have written to me about a news release they’ve received, one writing: “This one takes the prize for tasteless press release of the month.” It’s the latest in a long line of hospital news releases promoting their robotic surgery systems.

The subject line of the email news release is: PIONEERING ROBOTIC TECHNOLOGY GIVES A LOVING WIFE A SECOND CHANCE.  Here’s the body of the news release:

Venice hospital’s first da Vinci cardiac case

(March 16, 2012) Venice, Fla. — At 84-years-old, Pauline Rodier says not a day goes by that she does not think of her late husband, Al.

“He was my everything. I miss him so much,” she says.

Al had been sick for years with various health issues. “My husband was a one-in-a-billion kind of guy. He was the best man I ever met. When he got sick he never wanted me to know.” Rodier recalls, “He died in my arms saying, ‘I love you with my full, full heart.’”

Every day since her husband’s funeral, Rodier has been visiting his headstone at the cemetery.

In fact, the first day she skipped her regular visit was the day she had a health complication of her own. A visit to her primary care doctor and the alarming results of a scan landed her in a hospital bed just hours later. At the hospital, Rodier found herself under the care of cardiovascular, thoracic and vascular surgeon Mateo Dayo, M.D., M.B.A. of the Venice-Ocala Heart Institute.

“He told me I didn’t have a heart attack, but I had a tumor blocking the blood flow to my heart,” Rodier shares. “Dr. Dayo explained a new procedure to help fix my heart using a robot. I told him I needed time to think about it. Then, I thought of not being able to visit my husband at the cemetery and decided to go through with it,” she says.

The surgery was complex explains Dayo, “We performed a robotic-assisted Myxoma incision. Mrs. Rodier’s heart had a tumor of connective tissue that we removed using robotic-assisted techniques.”

This procedure was the Venice Regional Medical Center’s first robot-assisted intracardiac case and Dayo reports it was a success.

“Since the procedure offered smaller incisions to gain access to the heart, Mrs. Rodier was out of the hospital sooner,” Dayo says.

Less time in the hospital means more time visiting her husband’s final resting place. “If he were here today, he would say I did the right thing. That is what he would say.”

Today Rodier’s heart is healthy and she says she will never forget the treatment she received from Dr. Dayo.

“He is my teddy bear. He saved me,” she says.

I asked Harold DeMonaco, one of our expert editors on, to comment on the news release. He wrote:

Minimally invasive surgery for atrial myxoma is a relatively new approach to
removal of this benign tumor. In reality, any academic hospitals are capable of
providing this surgical approach.  The proponents would argue there is less
trauma to this approach and to date, hospitalization, pain and recovery times
appear to be shorter.  While appealing, minimally invasive surgical techniques
have not been compared formally to traditional open approaches in terms of long
term outcomes save for a few small series of cases reviewed retrospectively. A
minimally invasive approach, with or without the use of a robot, may be the best
option for elderly and debilitated patients.

People need to understand that the skill of the surgeon and the surgical team is
the important consideration for any surgery.  The DaVinci robot is merely a tool
and not a magical device.  The use of a robot-assist is far less important the
the number of procedures the surgeon and the institution have performed with the
device an there historical outcomes.

Related topic:  In a followup to an earlier posting, the AP reports that:

University of Illinois trustees have agreed to pay $6 million to the family of a man who died in 2007 after a robotic surgery at the university’s Chicago hospital.Juan Fernandez of Chicago died in February 2007 of complications following the procedure to remove his spleen performed at the University of Illinois Medical Center. A lawsuit filed by his family claimed hospital staff failed to find and treat an injury that occurred during the surgery in time to save Fernandez.According to court testimony earlier this year, the surgery was the first the surgeon had performed using the robotic equipment.Trustees voted Thursday at their regular meeting to approve the settlement.

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Comments (4)

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March 19, 2012 at 1:42 pm

I don’t understand why this press release is “tasteless.” What’s wrong with it?

    Gary Schwitzer

    March 19, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I can’t speak for the journalist who wrote to me calling this “tasteless.”

    But I think it’s safe to assume it was because the news release was used to:

      • promote robotic technology for something that didn’t require robotic technology
      • frame the new procedure as if it was the only thing that allowed the woman to continue to visit her husband’s grave
      • frame this as “less time in the hospital means more time visiting her husband’s final resting place”
      • promote a medical center’s “first case” with a given procedure for a given condition (As noted, it is the number of procedures that a surgeon has done that is more important that use of a robot-assist device. As also noted, another medical center just settled a lawsuit after a death which apparently occurred after a surgeon first used robotic technology.)

    Taste is subjective but I heard from a number of readers who agreed with that assessment.