A recent controversial ad for the da Vinci surgical robot may have violated state law and the University of Illinois’ code of conduct, according to former Beth Israel Deaconess hospital administrator Paul Levy. Levy, who has drawn a considerable amount of attention to the ad after blogging about its violations, told Mass Device “While I have become accustomed to the many da Vinci ads, I was struck by the idea that a major university health system had apparently made a business judgment that it was worthwhile to advertise outside of its territory, in a national ad in the New York Times,”
The full-page print ad ran in The New York Times Magazine and showed a team with white lab coats under the headline “We believe in da Vinci surgery because our patients benefit,” At the bottom of the page, the fine print says that Intuitive paid some of the doctors seen in the ad.
Levy says that his initial unease is fully warranted after doing some research, stating “The ad violated the University’s code of conduct and administrative procedures, and likely state law.” A review of the university campus’ administrative manual clearly says that this type of advertising is not allowed. “In general, the University cannot permit its image to be used in any commercial announcement, in a commercial or artistic production, including the World Wide Web or in any other context where endorsement of a product, organization, person, or cause is explicitly or implicitly conveyed,” the manual states.
Levy says in a blog post titled “Time to Fire Somebody” that the University has violated its code to exercise ‘custodial responsibility for University property and resources,’ by using its name in a national ad run by a private party. He also points out, in another subsequent post, that some of the people shown in the ad are not physicians. One person, he says, isn’t even a medical professional and instead holds an administrative position.
Since then, Levy has received an email from the University’s executive director of university relations, Thomas Hardy. According to Mass Device, Hardy wrote “We will use this opportunity to conduct a methodical assessment of policies, guidelines, procedures and practices, and where corrective changes are required we will take the appropriate action.” according to Mass Device. He also said that the ad has been suspended.
Intuitive has had some issues with its da Vinci surgical robot, which is used in minimally invasive surgeries. The systems, which can cost up to $2.2 million each, have raised some safety concerns. Levy has noted in other posts that Intuitive has seen disappointing earnings from the system. A study published last year in the Journal for Healthcare Quality, found that deaths and injuries caused by the robots are underreported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The American Congress of Obstetricians has questioned the use of robot surgery for hysterectomies, stating that little data supports this method compared to other less costly options.