Controversy for University Hospital Over Ad for Surgical Robot


An ad promoting Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci surgical robot system, which prominently features a dozen members of the surgery team at the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System, has generated serious controversy.

Paul Levy a former administrator at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston was taken aback by the ad and immediately began researching its propriety. Levy concluded that the ad violated the university’s code of conduct, its administrative procedures, and possibly state law, according to “We believe in da Vinci surgery because our patients benefit,” the ad’s headline read. “I was stunned,” Levy wrote on his blog Not Running a Hospital, “that a public university would allow its name and reputation to be used in that way,” for the benefit of a private party’s commercial objectives.

Da Vinci robotic systems are expensive, up to $2.2 million each, according to The Wall Street Journal. Studies have questioned the robot’s value over widely accepted minimally invasive surgical techniques. One study found that injuries and deaths attributed to the robots are underreported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Bloomberg News writes that robotic surgery injury reports more than doubled in the first eight months of 2013, compared with the same period in 2012. Intuitive faces more than two dozen lawsuits over injuries and complications including internal burns and lacerations, and punctured organs. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said last year, “There is no good data proving that robotic hysterectomy is even as good as – let alone better – than existing, and far less costly, minimally invasive alternatives.”

Levy has written a series of posts about the ad. On January 22nd he criticized the university for actions “not consistent with ‘exercising custodial responsibility for University property and resources.'” Levy also noted that some of those who appeared in the ad in white coats were not doctors, and one was not even a medical professional, MassDevice reports. The university said the ad was paid for by Intuitive and that neither the university nor those pictured were compensated for appearing in the ad, but the ad’s copyright credit included this line: “Some surgeons who appear in this ad have received compensation from the company for providing educational services to other surgeons and patients.”