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Surgical errors cast doubt on future of robotic surgery

The use of surgical robots in South Carolina hospitals has increased over the years as doctors have discovered that the devices allow them to be more precise and make fewer incisions than with conventional surgical procedures. The publication of a study linking malfunctions of the devices to surgical errors has raised concerns about the safety of robotic surgery.

The study reviewed 71 reported deaths and 174 injuries occurring during robotic surgery from Jan. 1, 2000, to Aug. 1, 2012. A recent federal government survey of 11 surgeons who performed a large number of robotic surgeries reported experiencing equipment malfunctions ranging from robot arms that crashed into each other to patients suffering from a loss of vision and perforated bowels. A recall by the manufacturer of robotic devices in 2013 due to reports of friction that could cause the arms of the device to stall added to concerns about their safety.

Surgical robots began appearing in operating rooms in the late 1990s where they were used primarily by urologists. Today, the devices are used in various types of general, cardiac, and gynecologic surgeries. Surgeons use the robots to mimic the movement of their hands during surgery. Although hospitals claim the devices are safe, reports of the arm of a robot striking a patient or refusing to release tissue during procedures contribute to concerns about the devices.

Surgical errors that can cause serious injury were thought to be reduced through the introduction of robotic surgery. The recently released information about deaths and injuries occurring when robots were used by surgeons might indicate that patients still have reason to be cautious when contemplating surgical procedures. A lawyer might be a resource for answers to the questions and concerns a patient or the family of a patient might have regarding serious injuries due to surgical errors.

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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