Here's what I think of when I picture a hospital pulling the wrapper off a shiny new surgical robot, like the ones commonly used to perform prostate surgeries: A kid getting a pair of skis in July.
A kid doesn't care if there's no snow on the ground -- he can't wait to try out his new skis, even if it means a dangerous glide down a staircase.
Same goes for those hospitals -- because a new study confirms that the first response isn't "how can we use this machine best?"
It's "how quickly can we put this thing to work -- and how many patients can we use it on?"
I have to wonder if they even have time to read the instruction book before they plug the robot in, peel back the protective coating on the screen, and start operating.
For the new study, researchers focused on prostate removals in Wisconsin between 2002 and 2008. They found 1,400 surgeries overall in 2002 -- but 1,760 in 2007, when overall prostate cancer diagnoses in the state were down.
So if fewer men aren't getting cancer... why are more men getting surgeries?
Maybe we should ask those robots -- because one in four hospitals bought them in that time, and when they did they doubled the number of surgeries performed within just three months.
And that's how you make it snow in July.
Other studies have confirmed that hospitals put their robots to work faster than you can sing "domo arigato, Mr. Roboto."
One recent study of robot purchases found that hospitals did an average of 29 extra surgeries in the year after they unveiled the machine... even when the overall number of surgeries shrank in the region.
Another recent study from Johns Hopkins found that hospitals with robots often promote the machines on their Web sites -- and of course, they hype the benefits and barely mention the risks.
But don't let a hospital PR team fool you: Robotic procedures are no safer than the traditional surgeries, and might be even riskier if your surgeon still has the instruction manual in his lap as he operates.
The idea that prostate cancer even needs surgery is flat-out wrong most of the time -- because I've told you before, the disease won't kill or even hurt most of the men who get it.
Instead of signing up for the latest and greatest surgery, most men are better off doing absolutely nothing at all.