DC Doctors Perform Surgery With Killer Robots!

Visitors to D.C.’s U.S. Science and Engineering Festival last month had an opportunity to get up close and personal with Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot. This robot doesn’t look very threatening, but similar robots have harmed hundreds of Americans.

The da Vinci robot is a surgical system that consists of a console with a computer monitor that provides a three-dimensional view of the patient’s body. A set of controls on the console allow a doctor to move four robotic arms, which hold a camera and surgical instruments. The da Vinci system computer filters out any trembling or shaking and translates the surgeon’s movements into very small and very precise movements of the instruments inside the patient’s body.

There are many benefits to robotic surgery. Procedures can be performed through very tiny incisions causing less trauma to the body. As a result, patients have shorter hospital stays, less pain, fewer complications, and faster recoveries.

The da Vinci surgical system is approved for the treatment of the following conditions:

  • Achalasia
  • Throat cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Gynecological cancers
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Uterine prolapse
  • Heavy uterine bleeding
  • Endometriosis
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Mitral valve surgery
  • Obesity

However, robotic surgery doesn’t always go as planned. Between 2000 to 2012, The FDA received 245 reports of serious incidents involving the da Vinci system, including 71 deaths and 174 nonfatal injuries. During the second quarter of 2013, Intuitive Surgical was a defendant in more than 30 product liability lawsuits for injuries and deaths caused by the surgical system. However, the actual number of injuries may actually be higher.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University searched court records and newspapers for mention of injuries and deaths linked to the da Vinci surgical robot. They found five reports of adverse events that had not been reported to the FDA. They also found that three of the incidents reported to the FDA were not reported in a timely manner. One incident was only reported to the FDA after a new story aired about the patient’s death. The study was published in the August 27, 2013 issue of The Journal for Healthcare Quality.

When medical equipment causes an injury, hospitals must report the incident to the manufacturer. The manufacturer is responsible for reporting the incident to the FDA. If the manufacturer does not file reports in a timely manner, the FDA cannot identify potential risks.

Intuitive claims that robotic surgery is safer and more effective that traditional surgery. But, experts disagree. A study published in JAMA reports that patients who underwent robot-assisted hysterectomies were just as likely to suffer complications as women who underwent traditional hysterectomies, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has said that robotic surgery "is not the only or the best minimally invasive approach for hysterectomy."

Is Intuitive withholding reports of injuries? Only time will tell. However, if you have been injured during surgery with the da Vinci robot, you deserve accountability. Contact Lewis and Tompkins to learn more about your rights. There’s no charge for the consultation.

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