Surgical Robots: Cutting Edge or Potentially Dangerous Machines?

Post #2 image. 2012-07-09.jpgWho doesn’t love a new gadget? Whether it’s the latest iPhone or a new videogame console, we love our technology and are always in a hurry to be the first to have flashy new products. Sometimes, though, this rush can be to our determent. One example of that is the da Vinci Surgical Robot. According to the manufacturer, the device makes a surgeon’s job much easier, allowing smaller incisions and increased recovery time.

That may be true for some, but there have also been reports of serious injuries related to the use of the robot. Part of the problem appears to be a rush to train surgeons who are being put in control of the powerful machines before they are ready. Patients who have been injured by the robots have begun filing lawsuits and recently requested that a panel of federal district court judges consolidate the litigation before a single federal court.

The company says the da Vinci robot can be used to treat obesity, endometriosis, throat cancer, prostate removal, kidney cancer, coronary artery disease, and gallbladder removal. The robot has four arms: three for surgical instruments and a fourth with an camera. It claims to give doctors an increased range of motion and to provide a less invasive way of achieving many traditional surgeries.

The manufacturer, Intuitive Surgical, was good at encouraging hospitals to snap up the devices, leading them to believe that without them they would fall behind the technological curve. More than that, the devices would lead to increased revenues and productivity. The company succeeded in wooing many medical facilities to drop upwards of $1 million on the robots and an additional $140,000 per year in maintenance costs.

A few years ago the Wall Street Journal ran a big article on the product which discussed the unheard problems associated with the device. The article recounted how one patient was so badly injured that she required four additional surgeries to repair the damage caused from the machine. In other cases, two patients suffered lacerated bladders.

Plaintiffs who have filed lawsuits against the manufacturer claim that complications from the procedures may include tears and burns to the uterus, intestines, and blood vessels, as well as vaginal cuff dehiscence–a separation of the vaginal incision, after which abdominal or pelvic contents may be expelled through the opening. A 2009 study noted that vaginal cuff dehiscence with small bowel evisceration after hysterectomy may be occurring more frequently with the advent of robotic laparoscopic hysterectomies.

The robot itself does not appear to be to blame; it’s actually the doctors and their lack of training that’s the problem. Intuitive Surgical only offers two days of free training for two surgeons at each purchasing hospital. Any more and the hospitals have to go out of pocket to pay for training. Such a short time does no come close to meeting the training requirements of doctors. The Reviews in Urology journal said that a surgeon must perform up to 200 cases to be proficient with robotic surgery, far more than can be done in a mere two days.

For their part the manufacturer says that it is up to the hospitals to create guidelines for training their doctors. Given the increasing number of lawsuits associated with the product, patients can only hope the doctors and the maker of the robot work out a solution that ensures the safety of those waiting to go under the knife.

If you would like to speak with a Mississippi medical malpractice attorney about a potential medical malpractice claim, call Mississippi medical malpractice lawyers at Kobs & Philley today at (601) 863-8170.

Source: “Use of surgical robots booming despite hefty cost,” by Carol Ostrom, published at SeattleTimes.com.

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