Robotically-assisted surgery involves the use of a computer, cameras and instruments wielded by a robot arm that is controlled by a surgeon. According to the manufacturer, this arm gives the doctor more dexterity and ability to maneuver in smaller spaces than is possible with human hands. The company also claims that procedures performed with the assistance of the robot are safer than traditional surgical practices, and are getting safer over time. Evidence reported by the Food and Drug Administration indicates otherwise.
According to the FDA, the number of reported injuries resulting from robotic surgery is on the rise, prompting an official investigation by that agency. Between 2004 and 2012, adverse events per 100,000 surgeries rose from 13.3 to 50. Of the thousands of complications, nearly 200 injuries and half as many deaths occurred as a direct result, according to The Journal for Healthcare Quality. Many experts believe that patients are not given enough information about the level of risk involved before undergoing these procedures.
Many traditional procedures are safer and more cost-effective
In spite of the assertions by the manufacturer’s aggressive marketing tactics, many traditional laparoscopic surgeries have proven to be safer and more cost-effective than their robotic counterparts, especially when it comes to hysterectomies and similar procedures. For example, in 2009, a patient underwent robotically assisted surgery for endometriosis, according to a story by the New York Times. When performed laparoscopically, the procedure typically takes 30 to 45 minutes, but this operation lasted for nearly 11 hours. The patient returned to the hospital ten days later because her colon and rectum were torn during the surgery, and reparation procedures took five weeks.
Risk factors include machine malfunction and a lack of adequate training
A primary contributing factor to the adverse events occurring during robotic procedures is the malfunction of the machine. Doctors have reported incidents where the arm jerked, locked up or dropped an instrument during surgery. When no injuries occur, the issues are not addressed and may continue until they cause a problem for the patient. Experts say that another risk factor is a direct result of the lack of adequate training doctors are given. Training for traditional procedures involves hundreds of surgeries to acquire competency, but according to the manufacturer, a two-day training with the robotic arm is adequate. Once doctors have completed the required training, the company claims that the doctor or hospital becomes liable for any surgical mistakes, rather than the company. In Nevada, there is a statute of limitations to file a medical malpractice suit, even though errors as a result of robotic equipment may not manifest themselves until some time after the surgery. Victims and their families may benefit from the advice of a personal injury attorney who is familiar with the state’s laws and statutes.