Sunday, July 6, 2014

Is this just a technical bloop or an example of the insidious nature of the marketing conducted by those in the robotic surgery medical-industrial complex?

Back in March, nurse Kathy Day and others in Maine were excited about the arrival of Dr. John Santa to address a "Maine Quality Counts" town hall meeting.  As noted on the MQC website:

Maine Quality Counts is an independent health care collaborative committed to improving health and health care for the people of Maine by leading, collaborating, and aligning improvement efforts.

Dr. Santa is the Director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center and is an advocate for greater patient and family participation in their care.  He has said, for example: "The best situation for a patient [is] for doctors to be in partnership with friends and family, to work as a team that [has] no barriers of any kind."

The event was planned for one of the Eastern Maine Health System locations.

Kathy, who is well known in her own right as a patient advocate in Maine, agreed to be interviewed by the local television station for a promo.  The text presented to viewers was fine:

Don’t miss an opportunity to improve your healthcare next week in Brewer.

Maine Quality Counts is hosting a discussion involving the relationship between patients and healthcare providers.

Doctor John Santa will be streaming from Augusta with a keynote on what he says are risky tests and procedures patients often encounter.

You’ll be able to ask questions.

“It’s scientifically proven that if patients are more engaged in their own health care and in their visits in the doctors office even in the hospital that they have they end up having a better outcome,” says Kathy Day, who is involved with Maine Quality Counts. “They have safer care.  They have care that they’re more satisfied with.”

The meeting is Monday night at the Cianchette Auditorium at Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems.  It starts at 5:30 p.m.

But now look at the video that was inserted in the midst of the message.  Hmm, something looks familiar!

And just to nail the product placement, this shows up a few seconds later:

Look, I don't know who did the switch to hijack a patient-centered message with an advertisement for the EMHS robotic surgery program.  Maybe the television station just had an old "B" roll lying around and used it as visual filler--but let's think about what it means that such a clip was in the news department library.  I'd feel a lot more confident, too, about this being an inadvertent lapse if it were the only misleading action related to the EMHS program.  But as we scan through the health system's website, we find the standard inaccurate representations about this modality, i.e., comparing robotic surgery with open surgery as opposed to manual laparoscopic procedures:

Robotically-assisted surgery is one of the most effective and least invasive surgical treatment options available. Instead of traditional open surgery with a several inch-long incision, similar results can now be accomplished with five small incisions; the largest of which is smaller than the size of a dime. Smaller incisions are not the only benefit to patients. Robotically-assisted surgery also leads to:
  • Shorter hospital stay
  • Less pain and scarring
  • Faster recovery
  • Quicker return to normal activities 
I'm torn between being more offended by this description than the idea that a TV news department had a video clip advertising the hospital's robotic surgery program.  The whole situation is too typical of hospitals--large and small--that have bought into the medical arms race.  Business objectives squeeze out any semblance of medical ethics.


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