Much of robotic surgery marketing 'unsubstantiated'

Hospitals are overselling the benefits of robotic surgery in intense marketing campaigns that fail to note higher costs and potential complications, finds a study published in this month's American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

"The Commercialization of Robotic Surgery: Unsubstantiated Marketing of Gynecologic Surgery by Hospitals," notes that hospital online marketing of robotic surgery relies heavily on images and text provided by the device manufacturer.

While the vast majority of marketing materials cited better surgical outcomes than with standard surgeries, the higher cost of robotic surgery was mentioned in only 3.7% of the websites. Possible complications were mentioned on just 1.6% of the websites.

One in six websites told patients "you owe it to yourself" to consider robotic surgery, Reuters reported in an article about the study. Marketing terms such as "state-of-the-art," "cutting-edge" and "first robots" were common, according to an article about the study by MedPage Today.

In short, the study authors concluded, while marketing of robotic gynecologic surgery is widespread, "(m)uch of the content is not based on high-quality data, fails to present alternative procedures and relies of stock text and images."

The findings were based on an analysis of the websites of 432 large hospitals, 44.4% of which marketed robotic gynecologic surgery.

While there's little question that patients bleed less and recover more quickly with robotic surgery than if a large incision is made, the technology isn't necessarily any more effective than regular surgery, according to a study published in January in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Robotic surgery also costs more than $1,000 more than laparoscopic surgery, Reuters reported.

"There's definitely been a lot of marketing pressures. I think that's driving use," study author Dr. Jason Wright, gynecological oncologist at Columbia University, told the News-Press of Southwest Florida this spring. "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."

Intuitive Surgical Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., has sold more than 2,200 of its da Vinci surgical robots worldwide at a cost of $1 million to $2.5 million each, according to Reuters.

To learn more:
-here's the study abstract
-read the Reuters article
-check out the News-Press report
-see the MedPage Today article