Videos of Actual Surgeries May Give Patients Pause

Lights! Camera! Scalpel? Some employers are experimenting with steering their workers toward Web sites in which they can see videos of actual surgeries. “There is the diabetic foot-ulcer procedure, in which forceps peel away dead tissue as blood drips down the foot,” the Wall Street Journal reports. “There is the skin-cancer footage, in which a scalpel cuts into the fine, wrinkled skin on the hand of an elderly woman. And there's the cataract video, which shows a needle piercing an eye, while a narrator explains that the needle is used to ‘fragment the lens into thousands of little pieces and suction it' away.”

Stop! Which, the article suggests, is the sort of reaction employers want workers to have. As in stop smoking, stop overeating, stop drinking too much, or face this. It's the latest development in the consumer-directed health care movement, though it remains to be seen just how widespread use of surgery videos, and less graphic video simulations, will become.

Most insurers and employers haven't signed on yet. One that did is Lumenos, a subsidiary of WellPoint. Employer clients of Lumenos offering the surgery-simulation videos to workers include the city of Las Vegas and Fujitsu America. Lumenos contracts with a company called Graphic Surgery for use of the video simulations. (Another company, WorldDoc, created the live-action surgery video, which Lumenos does not use.)

“Graphic's video service costs $8,520 a year for a company with 1,000 workers, with additional employees priced at a discount,” the Journal reports.

Both Graphic and WorldDoc also provide estimates of how much companies will save as a result of employees adjusting their lifestyles because of having seen the videos.

However, Abbie Leibowitz, MD, cofounder and chief medical officer of Health Advocate, which advises patients on health insurance issues, questions whether a video is enough to encourage lifestyle adjustment. Also, he wonders if the motives of businesses that offer such screenings might be questioned.

“It seems that the idea here is possibly to show consumers how gory surgery is and scare them out of having it,” says Leibowitz. “Whether looking at bypass surgery on video is going to convince someone to change his lifestyle in a long-term, meaningful way, or give up tennis to avoid a knee injury, I think is a stretch.”

Still, Leibowitz adds, making more info available to workers doesn't hurt. The videos are a “nice complement” to other educational material offered by Graphic and WorldDoc.

“Access to good health information is increasingly important for consumers,” says Leibowitz.