Hospitals oversell benefits of robotic surgery

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Hospitals are playing up the benefits of robotic surgery, marketing words like "state-of-the-art," "cutting-edge" and "first robots," although those claims might be unsubstantiated, MedPage Today reported.

More than 44 percent of hospital websites actively are marketing their services about robotic gynecologic surgery, according to a review of American Hospital Directory data of 432 hospitals in New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Colorado, Georgia and California. Most of the time (in 90 percent of the cases), the marketing language related to benign conditions.

Hospitals on their websites listed advantages to robotic surgery, including shorter recovery time (92 percent), less pain (88 percent), reduced blood loss (76 percent), less scarring (75 percent) and reduced infection (58 percent), the MedPage article noted.

"Clearly, the Internet is exerting substantial influence on healthcare consumers, and websites maintained by hospitals and physicians are an important source of information," Maria Schiavone said at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology meeting. "Given that more than 70% of patients believe all or most of the information they find online, it is paramount that hospitals' and physicians' websites maintain factually correct and unbiased information."

The marketing of robotic surgery could be working, affecting the volume of these kinds of high-tech procedures. For instance, the number of da Vincis used for prostate cancer treatment, hysterectomies and other procedures has grown at Florida hospitals by nearly 200 percent in the past five years, The News-Press reported. Even though Southwest Florida hospitals lack data about the benefits of small-incision procedures, patients are asking for the services regardless.

"Patients are very impressed with the technology and assume it provides a better outcome over other minimally invasive surgeries," said Marty Makary, a surgeon at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in the News-Press article. "That's not always the case."

Jason Wright, gynecological oncologist at Columbia University, added, "There's definitely been a lot of marketing pressures. I think that's driving use." He continued, "A lot of hospitals fear they're going to lose (patient) volume to their competition, because a lot of hospitals are aggressively marketing robotic surgery."

However, Intuitive Surgical Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., the maker of the Da Vinci, insists that the $2.5 million device does offer benefits. "The quality outcomes are real," said spokesman Christopher Simmonds. "Otherwise they wouldn't invest in such systems."

For more information:
read the News-Press article
read the MedPage article

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