da Vinci Surgical Robot Advertisement Comes Under Criticism

A recent article in the Chicago Tribune has levied criticism against doctors for appearing in a national advertisement endorsing the da Vinci robotic surgical system.

The full-page ad, which featured doctors from the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, was developed and paid for by Intuitive Surgical, Inc., manufacturer of the da Vinci robotic system.  It pictures the entire department of doctors on the minimally invasive surgery team at the hospital, including some administrative staff who were dressed in the same white coats as the doctors, with the caption “WE BELIEVE IN DA VINCI SURGERY BECAUSE OUR PATIENTS BENEFIT.”  The Tribune article noted that neither the doctors nor the hospital were paid for participating in the ad, but that Intuitive Surgical had compensated some of those doctors for services related to the da Vinci system in other capacities.

However, the Tribune article noted that “[i]nstead of gaining national publicity for being leaders in robotic surgery, the doctors and the University… are under scrutiny for endorsing a commercial product” and face potential conflict of interest problems.    Following the negative backlash in the media, the University acknowledged that the ad “may have been a mistake” and asked for the ad to be pulled.

Aggressive Marketing

The da Vinci robotic system has been heavily marketed to the public and the medical community.  The da Vinci website says that it “enables your surgeon to operate with enhanced vision, precision, dexterity and control” while leaving the surgeon “100% in control.”  However, following a slew of negative publicity from the 2013 FDA recall and lawsuits by patients who claim serious injuries after da Vinci surgeries, the company set out to aggressively improve the device’s image.  The authors of the Tribune article referred to statements made by Angela Wonson, an Intuitive Spokeswoman, indicating the purpose of the doctors’ testimonials was to “combat misinformation from patients’ lawyers” and to let doctors who use the [da Vinci] device speak directly to the public.”

A doctor’s word about the benefit or effectiveness of a medical device is a strong testimonial indeed.  Some doctors who use the device claim patients benefit by experiencing shorter recovery time, less blood loss and fewer site infections in comparison to traditional surgery.  Others, however, point out that the studies done by Intuitive Surgical about patient benefits were not sufficiently founded in controlled, clinical trials.

A testimonial or endorsement from a doctor is taken seriously.  Patients must necessarily rely on a doctor’s experience, expertise and judgement when in their care and trust that the decisions they make about our treatment are objective and in our best interest.  When doctors are paid for using a particular medical device, or appear endorse one particular product or device over another, many argue that the doctor’s neutrality and ethics may be compromised.

The da Vinci Robotic Surgical System

The da Vinci robotic system is sophisticated surgical device that uses a 3D high-definition camera and miniature instruments designed to allow doctors to make fewer, smaller and more precise incisions when performing surgery.  There has been some confusion about its name – while it has been named a “robotic” device, it is not actually a robot that performs the surgery.  Rather, it is simply a sophisticated tool a doctor uses.  The doctor uses the “joint wristed” instruments to perform the actual surgical work.  It has been used in millions of common laparoscopic surgeries since receiving FDA approval in 2000.

Patient Injuries and da Vinci FDA Recall

The FDA began investigating the safety of the device in early 2013 following reports of thousands of patient injuries and other “adverse events.”  The FDA ultimately issued a class II recall of 30 da Vinci devices.

As part of its investigation, the FDA conducted a survey of surgeons who have used the da Vinci device.  The survey revealed a particularly special learning curve for doctors and suggested that inconsistent training on using the device, or a lack thereof, could be contributing to the cause of patient injuries.  Despite the need for training, the device manufacturer does not require any specific training for doctors.  Surgeon training reportedly can consist of as little as a few hours of online training or watching videos.

To the extent that doctors or hospitals personally benefit from using certain medical devices, whether the da Vinci robotic surgical system or a particular drug, the assumption is that those drugs and medical devices will be used more frequently in patient treatment than they may otherwise.  When patients suffer injury as a result, it undoubtedly becomes and issue in any resulting lawsuit.

How Do I Get More Information?  

To learn more about da Vinci surgical robotic lawsuits, visit Audet and Partners website at http://www.davinci-surgical-robot-lawsuit.com.

If you, or a loved one, have experienced problems that may be related to a robotic surgery, contact the experienced attorneys at Audet and Partners, LLP for a free evaluation of your legal options.  Call us at (800) 965-1461 or fill out the confidential case inquiry form on this page for more information.

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