Researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland, recently conducted a study that found that hospital websites may overestimate the benefits and ignore the risks of using robotic surgery at their facilities.
After analyzing 400 randomly-selected websites for hospitals with 200 or more beds across the U.S., the researchers found that about four in 10 hospital websites publicize robotic surgery, with the majority of them touting its clinical superiority despite a lack of scientific evidence that robotic surgery is any better than conventional operations, the study said in an online report in the Journal for Healthcare Quality.
Specifically, in the descriptions of robotic surgery on the hospitals’ websites, the researchers found that 89 percent made a statement of clinical superiority over more conventional surgeries. Common claims included less pain, shorter recovery periods, less blood loss and less scarring from procedures performed with robotic instruments. Surprisingly, 32 percent of the descriptions said robotic surgery improves cancer outcomes. None of the websites mentioned any risks associated with robotic surgery.
Marty Makary, M.D., M.P.H., lead author of the study and associate professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine said these claims are troubling, at least, because there are no randomized, controlled studies that demonstrate a patient benefit from robotic surgery. He said, “New doesn’t always mean better,” explaining that robotic surgeries can take longer to complete, keeping patients under anesthesia longer and increasing costs.
Further, the study found that 73 percent of the websites that described robotic surgeries used stock images or text provided by the robot manufacturers. Thirty-three percent of the descriptions even provided a link to the robot manufacturer’s website. In addition to the misleading claims about the superiority of robotic surgery, the use of manufacturer-provided images and text describing robotic surgery raises serious conflict-of-interest concerns, Makary stated.
Because patients use hospital websites as reliable sources of information, Makary asserted that “hospitals need to be more conscientious of their role as trusted medical advisors and ensure that information provided on their websites represents the best available evidence.”