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To Err Is Robotic? Robotic Surgery Mistakes May Be Underreported

Should you trust your life to a robot? Many Milwaukee area hospitals think you should. They heavily advertise robotic surgery as being more precise, causing less pain, leaving fewer scars, and enabling a faster recovery and quicker return to normal activity.

In Wisconsin, robotic surgery is performed using the da Vinci surgical system, which is manufactured by Intuitive Surgical. The da Vinci surgical system is approved for the following types of surgeries:

  • Esophagomyotomy
  • Hysterectomy
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Uterine prolapse
  • Other gynecological surgery
  • Gallbladder surgery
  • Removal of colorectal cancer, kidney cancer, throat cancer and prostate cancer
  • Treatment of coronary artery disease
  • Mitral valve surgery
  • Kidney surgery
  • Bariatric surgery

Performing robotic surgery is somewhat like playing a video game. The surgeon sits at a console that provides a three-dimensional view of the patient’s body. He uses a joystick-like control system to control a patient-side robotic cart with four surgical arms. Three of the arms manipulate surgical instruments, while the fourth holds a camera. The arms carry out the surgeon’s commands and show the surgeon what is happening inside the body. This allows the surgeon to make very precise cuts on a very small scale, which potentially means less blood loss, less scarring, and a quicker recovery.

However, when you play a video game, there are no risks. If you make a mistake, you lose your life points or have to go back to the beginning—no big deal. If a physician makes a mistake while performing robotic surgery, it is a big deal. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received numerous reports of adverse events associated with Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robotic system. From 2000 to 2012, some 245 serious incidents were reported to the FDA, including 71 deaths and 174 nonfatal injuries.

When a medical device malfunctions, hospitals are required to report the incident to the manufacturer. The manufacturer, in turn, must report the incident to the FDA. But a recent study has found that the FDA is not receiving reports of da Vinci surgical injuries in a timely manner. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University looked through news reports and court records for mention injuries and deaths linked to the da Vinci surgical system. They found eight deaths that were not properly reported to the FDA. Dr. Martin Makary, the co-author of the study, believes this is just the tip of the iceberg, "We think that based on the sample, the 245 reported cases represent a small fraction of the true events out there.” The study was published in The Journal for Healthcare Quality.

Intuitive says that robotic surgery has helped millions. According to the company, any surgery is risky and the reports to the FDA do not mean that surgical robots are dangerous. But the victims of da Vinci robotic surgery injuries disagree. The medical device company is currently facing more than 26 lawsuits filed by injured patients.

Hupy and Abraham is representing victims of robotic surgery injury in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois. If you or someone you love was injured during surgery with the da Vinci surgical robot, you may be eligible for compensation for your medical bills, pain and suffering, and more. Call 800-800-5678 to learn more about da Vinci surgical robot lawsuits.

Jason F. Abraham
Managing Partner, Hupy and Abraham

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