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Are Hospitals Exaggerating the Benefits of Robotic Surgery?

Robotic surgery is becoming increasingly more available to patients as hospitals in San Diego and across the country invest millions of dollars in new equipment. However, hospitals may in fact be misleading their patients by overstating the advantages of robotic surgery over conventional surgery, according to new research from Johns Hopkins.

The study revealed that an estimated 4 in 10 hospital websites in the United States publicize the use of robotic surgery, with most also claiming that it is better than conventional operations, despite a lack of scientific evidence.

The researchers also found that the promotional materials provided to patients through hospital websites overestimate the benefits of surgical robots, largely ignore the risks, and are strongly influenced by the product’s manufacturer.

Here is a breakdown of the findings:

  • Forty-one percent of the hospital websites reviewed described the availability and mechanics of robotic surgery.
  • Of these, 37 percent presented the information on the homepage and 66 percent mentioned it within one click of the homepage.
  • Manufacturer-provided materials were used on 73 percent of websites, while 33 percent directly linked to a manufacturer website.
  • When describing robotic surgery, the researchers found that 89 percent made a statement of clinical superiority over more conventional surgeries, the most common being less pain (85 percent), shorter recovery (86 percent), less scarring (80 percent) and less blood loss (78 percent).
  • Thirty-two percent made a statement of improved cancer outcome.
  • None mentioned any risks.

“The public regards a hospital’s official website as an authoritative source of medical information in the voice of a physician,” says Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study’s leader. “But in this case, hospitals have outsourced patient education content to the device manufacturer, allowing industry to make claims that are unsubstantiated by the literature. It’s dishonest and it’s misleading.”

Although the use of robotics has skyrocketed, particularly to perform gynecological and heart procedures, Makary says there are no randomized, controlled studies showing patient benefit in robotic surgery. “New doesn’t always mean better,” he says, adding that robotic surgeries take more time, keep patients under anesthesia longer and are more costly.

If you or someone you love has been seriously injured due to a California medical error, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact experienced San Diego personal injury attorney Robert Vaage today for a free consultation.