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Did Intuitive Downplay Risks Associated with daVinci Robot?

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Irvine, CAA report in the Orange County Register (9/20/13) suggests that two surgeons have been working with Intuitive Surgical Inc to downplay the alleged risks associated with the daVinci surgical robot. Intuitive Surgical has come under fire recently for problems with the daVinci robot allegedly resulting in operating room injuries to patients. The company has also faced criticism for underreporting adverse events and aggressively marketing the daVinci robot, despite evidence that the robot does not necessarily make outcomes of certain surgeries significantly better.

According to the Register article, two surgeons from UC Irvine have spent approximately 10 years helping Intuitive Surgical market its robot. Their efforts have included scientific papers in which the benefits of the robot are touted, speaking to physicians around the world and allegedly downplaying the risks associated with the robot.

The article notes that the relationship between the surgeons and Intuitive has benefited the surgeons’ financials and enhanced their profile. Furthermore, UCI’s medical school has reportedly been given approximately $1.5 million in grants and reimbursements from Intuitive.

Concerns about the robot have been raised because surgery using the robot can cost up to two times traditional surgery, despite reports that the more expensive surgery does not necessarily improve surgical outcomes for certain surgeries.

Surgical outcomes are enough of a concern that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement (3/14/13) on use of the robot for hysterectomies, noting that the robot surgeries “added an average of $2,000 per procedure without any demonstrable benefit.” The ACOG wrote that there is no reliable data that proves robot hysterectomy is even as good as other surgical alternatives, let alone better than them, making the additional cost unwarranted.

It is not unusual for a medical device or pharmaceutical company to work with surgeons and health care professionals to help market their product. But the Register reports that part of the relationship involved marketing the robot as a device a surgeon could become skilled at using in just eight to 12 surgeries, while critics say it could take more than 10 times that number of surgeries to master the robot. Less experience with the robot could be one of the factors that result in serious injury to patients.

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