Research conducted by Johns Hopkins doctors has found that an estimated forty percent of hospital websites advertise the use of robotic surgery as superior to conventional surgery. However, there is a no evidence to suggest these statements are true. In particular, hospitals often exaggerate the benefits associated with robotic surgery while ignoring the risks.
Johns Hopkins researchers warn that the lack of candor in promotional materials is potentially dangerous for various reasons. Much of the positive advertisement is provided by the surgical robots’ manufacturers, as opposed to independent analysis by doctors or hospitals. This is a concern because the general public relies on hospitals, including their websites, to provide honest and complete information. Essentially, many would consider the material on a hospital’s website to be as if it was coming directly from a physician.
The study conducted by Johns Hopkins researches yielded startling results. Of the sample of hospital websites studied, forty-one percent described the availability of robotic surgery. Of those, eighty-nine percent (89%) indicated that robotic surgery is clinically superior over conventional surgery. Specifically, eighty-five percent (85%) said there would be less pain, eighty-six percent (86%) said there would be a shorter recovery, eighty percent (80%) said there would be less scarring and seventy-eight percent (78%) said there would be less blood loss. Shockingly, none of the websites mentioned any risks associated with robotic surgery at all.
The researchers at Johns Hopkins warn that the continuation of this type of behavior by hospitals could ultimately result in medical malpractice suits. When hospitals rely on device manufacturer’s to provide patients with information, and the information is not substantiated, hospitals are providing content that is dishonest and misleading. While the use of surgical robots to perform minimally-invasive common procedures has grown at a rapid pace, claims of smaller incisions, more precise results, less pain and shorter recovery time remain unsubstantiated. However, as more and more hospitals buy this expensive equipment, they continue advertising these results to patients. In actuality, studies have shown that robotic surgeries present numerous risks because they take more time and keep patients under anesthesia for longer, in addition to the fact that they are more costly; but none of these concerns are usually provided by hospitals promoting its use.
The biggest problem with a hospital’s use of manufacturer-provided information is the inherent conflict of interest. Hospitals hold a trusted role as medical advisors and must make all effort not to misinform patients. To use the information provided by manufacturers of the robotic devices without verifying the accuracy and truthfulness of that information is a violation of public trust, according to Johns Hopkins researchers.
This is an important study because it shows that there is possibly significant malpractice at many of Maryland’s hospitals as a result of the failure to adequately inform patients regarding their care.