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The (Not So) Hidden Dangers of da Vinci Surgical Systems

Mellino Law Firm

In our introductory article, we discussed the power and promise of robotic surgical systems, like Intuitive Surgical Inc.’s da Vinci machines. As exciting as the promise of robotic-assisted intervention is, we need to look at some cold hard facts.

A study published in August 2012 found that da Vinci surgeries have led to 174 injuries and 71 deaths. Complications associated with the surgeries included patient burns, internal bleeding and infections. Critics have pointed out the following:

1. Purchasing and up-keeping the machines can be expensive.

To justify the cost of the equipment, hospitals might be tempted to use them a lot – and during inappropriate times – which could increase patient risk.

2. Poor training and low regulation can lead to bad processes.

There is no FDA regulation regarding training on da Vinci machines. In fact, it’s up to hospitals, physicians, and the manufacturer to provide this instruction. In one scary incident, a surgeon admitted that he had done only two assisted surgeries before doing a surgery on his own with the robot. In 2013 alone, the FDA received almost 3,700 reports about robot surgeries leading to malfunctions, injuries and even deaths — more than double the number for 2012 (1,595).

3. The machines can malfunction, wear out, or otherwise lead to errors.

Run-down consoles, sticky parts, bad software, malfunctioning cameras, and damaged hardware can all lead to diverse errors. Moreover, tracking when and how these errors occur – and troubleshooting them – is a surprisingly tricky forensic task.

4. Doctor or caregiver error can play a prominent role.

Any piece of medical equipment can be misused, overused, or used in a negligent or careless fashion. Even if a doctor has substantial training, he or she may not be able to anticipate every scary scenario, particularly if the machine encounters a novel surgical situation or malfunctions in a subtle way.

5. Reporting problems can lead to danger.

You want to trust that hospitals and caregivers will accurately report adverse outcomes associated with machines like da Vinci, not only so that we can trust these instruments more, but also so that we can collectively course correct. Unfortunately, critics have noted systemic problems with inaccurate data and unreported error data. Just how many robotic surgical complications have gone unreported? There is no real way to know.

If you suspect that a robotic surgery or da Vinci machine contributed to or caused an injury to someone you love, please call our experienced personal injury attorneys for a free consultation about your options to obtain compensation.

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