High tech or high risk? An analysis of media reports about robotic surgery

Zita Ficko, Kevin Koo, Elias S. Hyams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Robotic surgery continues to increase in popularity and prevalence. The adoption of robotic technology has generated controversy and frequent media coverage. We evaluate recent reports of surgical robotics in the lay press to characterize its objectivity. LexisNexis and Factiva consumer news databases were queried for articles pertaining to robotic surgery published during 2010–2015 in the three highest circulation national (US) newspapers as well as New England regional newspapers. Two independent reviewers performed content analysis and assessed headline bias with strong reliability (mean κ = 0.96). 82 articles met inclusion criteria. Urological and gynecologic procedures were the most cited (54 and 57%, respectively). Commonly discussed aspects of robotic surgery included increased cost (45 articles, 55%), increased complications (38 articles, 43%), and easier recovery (32 articles, 39%). A minority of headlines (45%) had a neutral or unbiased tone. National newspapers were significantly more likely to report robotic surgery unfavorably by discussing disadvantages of the technology, only quoting surgeons with negative opinions, or citing scientific studies discrediting the robot (all p < 0.05). Of the 27 news articles that referenced published research studies, all 27 quoted studies reported the disadvantages of robotic surgery, while only 7 (26%) cited findings favoring robotic approaches. News reports about robotic surgery in the popular press contain a high proportion of negative bias. Non-neutral headlines and emphasis on research unfavorable to robotics were common. Clinicians should be aware of these reporting biases, which may affect patients’ perceptions of robotic surgery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)211-216
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Robotic Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Media
  • Robotic surgery
  • Robotics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Health Informatics


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