Accepted Paper:

Scrubbing In: The Role of Industry in Robotic Surgery  


William Drust (Loyola University Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

Robotic surgery is advertised as one of the most beneficial and cutting-edge surgical techniques currently available. This ethnographic study examines the increasing presence of industry actors and logics in robotic surgical decision-making.

Paper long abstract:

The drive to develop marketable technological processes has become a perennial feature of the medical industry in the United States. One of the latest products on offer is robotically-assisted minimally-invasive surgery. The cultural cachet of the "robot," as well as endorsements by both surgeons and hospitals, make robotic surgery fit comfortably into tropes regarding technological progress and the heroic, scientific doctor. However, far from a straightforward march of innovation, efforts to elicit the uptake of robotic surgery indicate the increased inclusion of industry actors into the network of surgical decision-making.

This study focuses specifically on Intuitive Surgical, Inc., producers of the da VinciĀ® Surgical System. Data were gathered through content analysis of the company's marketing materials, interviews with surgical professionals, and participant-observation at a "dinner-lecture" held for the recruitment of prospective da VinciĀ® surgeons. The resulting analysis of the framing of the technology's benefits and the sustained on-the-ground activities of Intuitive Surgical's sales representatives is in conversation with scholarship regarding the marketing logics carried out in biomedicalized and pharmaceuticalized healthcare and the embodied experiences of healthcare professionals.

The ever-present drive for profit and the increased complexity of techniques that may yield only modest benefits have created new activity in the surgical suite. By positioning themselves as gatekeepers of successful technological deployment while co-opting the cultural authority of surgeons in marketing efforts, industrial actors are blurring traditional notions of medical expertise and achieving acceptance of their product "by other means."

Panel T111
Body, Science and Expertise