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Robot surgery safe for patients?

Kentucky patients who are facing surgery may want to consider a recent media report about an Iowa surgeon who defended robot surgeries despite recalls and several complaints about the da Vinci Surgical System, a set of robotic arms that a surgeon controls via joy-stick. He claims that during his seven years of using the device, he has never run into any problems that couldn't be remedied with simple troubleshooting techniques. In the robot's defense, the surgeon says he believes it provides much more benefit to a patient because of the shorter recovery time they experience as a result. System experts also perform safety checks on the equipment quarterly.

On the other hand, the maker of the da Vinci system has issued recalls, and there have been reports of fatalities and injuries arising from the use of it. One recall issued in December of 2013 warned of 'abnormal friction" in the da Vinci system's robotic arms. According to a survey conducted by the Food and Drug Administration, 11 surgeons who had used the robotic system frequently reported instances of the arms "drifting" or colliding during operations and patients experiencing temporary finger numbness or internal bleeding from perforated organs.

These mistakes become more problematic if surgeons don't report errors to the proper authorities, such as the FDA. A study published recently in the Journal of Health Care Quality listed hospital errors allegedly linked to robot surgery as being underreported. The FDA stated that although 245 events were submitted between June 2001 and August 2012, authors found eight more cases that went unreported.

Despite all its potential patient benefits, the question is whether hospital mistakes can be avoided if robots perform surgeries, or if humans are required to make surgery safer for patients. A person who has suffered from a surgical error may be able to receive compensation for their injury. A medical malpractice lawyer could help him or her determine where the fault lies, with the robot or the surgeon.

Source: Sioux City Journal, "Manufacturer, hospitals say robotic surgery is safe in spite of complications", Dolly A. Butz, January 03, 2014

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