Robotic surgeries are medical procedures performed by a surgeon using a computer, cameras and a robot consisting of four metal arms. The da Vinci robot is currently the only device of its kind on the market, and its manufacturer, Intuitive Surgical, has promoted it aggressively to hospitals as safer and less invasive than traditional surgical methods.
Medical facilities across the country have embraced the technology, even as the number of adverse events reported to the FDA has risen from 13.3 to 50 per 100,000 procedures between 2004 and 2012. These reports include thousands of complications, nearly 200 injuries, and 70 deaths. Many experts believe that a vast number of additional instances of robotic surgical error are not reported at all.
Robotic surgery poses higher risk for women
Women have sustained more injuries than men during robotically-assisted surgery due to the increased risk the robot poses during gynecologic procedures. In one example, The New York Times published a story of a patient who had a robotic surgery to treat endometriosis in 2009. The operation lasted more than ten hours rather than the 30 to 45 minutes the procedure takes when performed laparoscopically. Ten days later, the patient returned to the hospital, where an examination revealed that her colon and rectum had been torn during the surgery. Procedures to repair the damage took an additional five weeks. Gynecologic procedures caused over 25 percent of the fatalities reported to the FDA.
Numerous risk factors raise the likelihood of complications
A recent study in The Journal of Urology found a correlation between computer-assisted urological surgeries and nerve injuries. This type of medical mistake may occur because of the need to put the surgical table at a steep angle while performing the procedure. While many of these injuries resolved within a month, some persisted longer than six months.
This is not an isolated study, and other alleged complications resulting from da Vinci robots include the following:
- Unintended burns from the machine’s cauterizing tools
- Liver and spleen punctures during heart surgery
- Rectal damage during prostate surgery
Machine malfunction is another of the contributing factors to adverse events. Incidents where the arm or pincers locked up or jerked have been reported by doctors, but if no injuries occurred, the issues were not addressed by the manufacturer.
Although the number of hospitals that use the technology has grown rapidly, the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine cautions that issues such as a lack of training for surgeons, patient education and risks have not been adequately addressed. Victims of medical malpractice involving surgical use of robotic technology may require costly reparation procedures and can benefit from the advice of a personal injury attorney who is knowledgeable of the laws and statutes in Illinois.