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Da Vinci Robot Surgery: Risks & Rewards

The da Vinci surgical system might have been hatched from the minds of science fiction writers, and would appear to be one of the most advanced technological breakthroughs in 21st century medicine. Through a few tiny incisions, a surgeon — sitting at an ergonomic, 3-D, high-definition video console — uses dexterous robotic arms to manipulate tools and perform complex medical procedures.

Surgeons can remove a cancerous tumor or a prostate gland with the help of a system that promises a steady hand, less blood loss and a quicker recovery. While the average person tends to view robotic technology favorably, the reality is that da Vinci robot surgery risks can sometimes outweigh the benefits, and the industry needs to keep a close eye on these systems to see where they are best implemented.

Da Vinci robot surgery risks

The AARP tells the story of 55-year-old public school teacher Paul Elliott of Gonzales, California who awoke from an eight-hour prostate removal surgery to find that he had no feeling in his shoulders and arms. He had been suspended in a steep head-down position for so long that he suffered permanent nerve damage and never regained full use of his left hand.

Other possible da Vinci robot complications include:

  • Sometimes longer and more expensive surgeries (compared to the usual laparoscopic surgery)
  • Organ perforation, due to the surgeon’s reduced sense of feeling
  • Burns caused by sparking electrical current

A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the da Vinci robot offers no advantage for hysterectomies. Comprehensive research reviews say the same is true for gallbladder removal, colorectal surgery and acid reflux procedures as well.

The FDA is currently investigating the 34 percent increase in adverse event reports and 71 da Vinci robot surgery deaths since 2012 to determine how widespread the problem with robotic surgery really is and identify much-needed areas of improvement to lower da Vinci robot surgery risks.

Just this December, the FDA issued a class II recall on more than 100,000 da Vinci surgical robot parts, stating that they may pose a “slight threat of serious consequences” or cause a “temporary health problem.” They issued the recall after Intuitive Surgical warned surgeons and patients of a 0.01% rate of robot wrist detachment, which caused some of the robots to stall during procedures.

Da Vinci robot surgery rewards

More than 2,000 surgical robots have been sold to hospitals since the FDA approved them in 2000. Each year, 30 percent more robotic surgeries are performed. Hospitals can tout that they are on “the cutting edge” of medical science with these impressive machines.

Advocates say the da Vinci surgical systems can:

  • Reduce surgeon fatigue, allowing them to perform more surgeries than they used to.
  • Improve the field of vision for surgeons who can utilize magnified 3-D images.
  • Boost dexterity, as robot hands move into tighter spaces, flexing in impossible ways
  • Negate the risk of surgical errors made by surgeon hand tremors.
  • Result in smaller incisions, lower blood loss, less risk of scarring and faster recovery times.

When compared to “open” surgeries for prostate removal and complex cancer surgeries, there is no doubt that robot surgery offers vast improvements over the conventional methods.

Intuitive Surgical lawsuit news

Recently, an Oregon gynecologist was found liable for $10,500 in medical expenses, as well as $100,000 in physical and emotional damages. According to the Intuitive Surgical lawsuit, the device malfunctioned during surgery, causing the removal of a healthy ovary and a piece of plastic to be left behind inside the patient’s body.

Intuitive Surgical is currently facing more than 50 product liability lawsuits, according to the Union-Bulletin of Washington. Injuries range from perforated organs, internal bleeding and burns, to peripheral vision loss, nerve damage, and missed targets.

  1. AARP – Is Robotic Surgery Right For You?

  2. CNN Fortune – Surgical Robots’ Awkward Adolescence,

  3. Intuitive Surgical - da Vinci Surgical System,

  4. WSJ - Study Raises Doubts Over Robotic Surgery,

  5. Mass Device – FDA: Intuitive Surgical Recalls Are Class II,

  6. Union-Bulletin: Intuitive Surgery’s Robot Incidents Call For More Training,