Robotic Surgery: Is This procedure Really Safe?

After complaining to her gynecologist of excruciating pains and excessive vaginal bleeding, Michelle’s doctor found growths in her uterus. To have these removed, her gynecologist told her that the best way was through robotic surgery (using the da Vinci surgical robot): the latest and the greatest technique available. Besides maximum precision, robotic surgery would be less painful and there would also be less bleeding.

The da Vinci surgical robot is made by Intuitive Surgical, Inc., an American company which is the top manufacturer of robotic surgical equipment; it is also the only company whose system has been approved in the U.S. for soft tissue procedures that include gynecological surgery, prostate operations and general surgery.

The many claimed benefits when using the da Vinci robot, Intuitive’s claim that it is extremely safe, and the way hospitals market the device in order to gain more customers, have successfully contributed to the increase of surgical procedures with the robots, from 228,000 in 2010 to 367,000 in 2012.

With the growth of the popularity of robotic surgery, however, is an increase in the number of adverse incident reports received by the Food and Drug Administration. From 24 injury reports in 2009, this number jumped to 115 in 2012; the number of deaths likewise increased, from 11 in 2009 to 30 in 2012 (these numbers, though, may not be the real figures, according to one surgeon at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, since some hospitals make sure that complaints do not reach the public).

In surgeries wherein a da Vinci robot is used, the physician in charge of the procedure sits at a video-game style console that is several feet away from his/her patient. While peering into a high-definition display, foot pedals and hand controls allow him/her to maneuver the robot’s mechanical arms equipped with tools. A 3-D camera, which shows the work as it is done inside a patient, guides him/her in performing the procedure.

Continuing the story above, Michelle did undergo a non-invasive hysterectomy in February of 2009. The surgery went smoothly and seemed perfect until five weeks later, while she sat on the toilet, she felt something pop inside her and was shocked to see her intestines drooping out of her vagina. She was rushed to the hospital and underwent a painful, invasive surgery.

Today, other than her hip-to-hip scar from the corrective surgery, a diminished sex life, and constipation from damaged rectal muscles, Michelle is holding on to whatever she can to continue living. It appears that what happened to Michelle has also happened to others, as shown in a number of lawsuits (besides the one she filed).

Two of the many other cases filed against Intuitive Surgical involve a man who suffered 15 long hours of internal bleeding after his liver and spleen were punctured during a heart valve repair and a man whose rectum was damaged during a prostate surgery.

In the midst of lawsuits, the hot seat has always been occupied by Intuitive Surgical, Inc., never by the surgeon who performed the surgery. This leads to the premise that the robotic surgical system is defective, never in the possibility that the surgeon, who performed the procedure, lacks proper training, skill and experience in operating the equipment.

The law firm Karlin, Fleisher & Falkenberg, LLC, believes that though patients must willingly assume a certain amount of risk before undergoing a surgical procedure, this does not exempt a surgeon or a manufacturing company, whose device has been used in the procedure performed, from liability if ever something not right happens. While some forms of malpractice or negligence may be easy to identify, others require deeper investigation and expert opinion to prove liability. Pursuing legal action and entrusting this only to a seasoned medical malpractice attorney would be a decision a wise person would make.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *