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Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci robotic surgery system.
Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci robotic surgery system.

Regional News/Midwest: Da Vinci ad controversy shows need to revamp conflict policies, U. of Illinois says

By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: March 22, 2014 - 12:01 am ET

University of Illinois conflict-of-interest policies and procedures need an overhaul to ensure uniformity across their various campuses, according to a report the school issued in response to a recent controversy involving an ad for Intuitive Surgical's da Vinci robotic surgery system.

The report found no apparent individual wrongdoing connected to the unauthorized use of the University of Illinois Hospital and Health Sciences System name and logo in a staff picture that appeared in an ad endorsing the da Vinci system, although it did point out possible conflicts of interest.

Instead, the report focused on the lack of proper procedures to deal with such conflicts. “There is a lack of ownership of policies and procedures at the campus-level, within the College of Medicine and amongst individual staff,” Lawrence Schook, University of Illinois vice president for research, said in the report. “With respect to the activities and decisions regarding the Da Vinci advertisement, there is a lack of ownership and accountability for conflict disclosure and management.”

The report added that “there is no uniformity of certain related policies across the UI campuses” in Champaign-Urbana, Chicago and Springfield. It noted however, that “there were no fraudulent attempts to hide any associations between faculty and Intuitive Surgical.” In interviews and reviewed emails, there was an “open dialogue regarding appropriateness of activities,” according to the report.

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The ad appeared in the Jan. 19 New York Times Magazine and was harshly criticized by former Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center CEO Paul Levy in his “Not Running a Hospital” blog. Levy questioned the appropriateness of the ad and the conflicts of interest that might be in play. He also raised the issue of how the ad fit into new Sunshine Act requirements mandating that drug and device companies disclose payments to physicians.

The report also chided the ad participants. Employee involvement in the da Vinci ad “represents a conflict of interest, and thus should have been disclosed,” it stated. The report noted that none of the employees were compensated for the use of their likenesses in the ad. Two physicians involved, however, disclosed that they either have received more than $5,000 from Intuitive or have equity or investments in the company valued at more than $5,000.

The report detailed $4.65 million in purchase orders for Intuitive Surgical equipment over the past three years, as well as a pending $50,000 research agreement between Intuitive Surgical and University of Illinois at Chicago physicians.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks

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