In last week’s Sunday New York Times, the newspaper profiled the controversy surrounding the adoption of robotic surgery technology in America’s hospitals. The industry’s only real robotic surgical system, the da Vinci from Intuitive Surgical, managed to create the buzz necessary to have patients and clinicians egg each other on to buy and use the system as if it were a miracle tool. Even the President decided to literally take a look into the device (see pic above). In reality, the benefits and disadvantages of robotic surgery are not yet clear, while the costs between the equipment and longer surgical time are exuberant. Still, people seem to believe in wonders of new technologies and demand the da Vinci.
A snippet from NYT:
One large national study, which compared outcomes among Medicare patients, indicated that surgery with a robot might lead to fewer in-hospital complications, but that it might also lead to more impotence and incontinence. But the study included conventional laparoscopy patients among the ones who had robot-assisted surgery, making it difficult to assess its conclusions.
It is also not known whether robot-assisted prostate surgery gives better, worse or equivalent long-term cancer control than the traditional methods, either with a four-inch incision or with smaller incisions and a laparoscope. And researchers know of no large studies planned or under way.
Meanwhile, marketing has moved into the breach, with hospitals and surgeons advertising their services with claims that make critics raise their eyebrows. For example, surgeons in private practice at the New Jersey Center for Prostate Cancer and Urology advertise on their Web site that robot-assisted surgery provides “cancer cure equally as well as traditional prostate surgery” and “significantly improved urinary control.”