Is Robotic Surgery Safe?

Yes and no. Robotically-assisted surgery is FDA-approved for certain procedures, but the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cautions doctors and patients alike against using surgical robots for others. Hospitals often oversell the benefits of robotic surgery and downplay the drawbacks. Aggressive marketing can make an institution seem high-tech and entice patients into robotic surgery, but most procedures can be completed traditionally without added complications from a complex machine.

Hysterectomies, for example, have no better outcome when performed with a da Vinci robot, and the robot may present additional risk factors. In a normal hysterectomy, a woman would not be at risk for burns. According to one 2012 wrongful death lawsuit, however, a 24-year-old woman succumbed to her injuries after the machine severely burned her arteries and intestines. Unfortunately, this story is not unique. Figures from The BBC link robotic surgery to 144 deaths in the United States.

Minimally Invasive Surgeries

Surgical robots have been approved for minimally invasive (laparoscopic) surgical procedures. These surgeries only require a small cut for the robotic tools and a high-quality camera to enter the body. From there, the surgeon has a clear view and precise tools to use in completing the surgery, which they will do via a control panel.

While many people misinterpret robotic surgery and believe that a robot will be performing the procedure, the doctor is in control the entire time. UCLA Health describes this process as similar to a video game, in which your surgeon controls every step of your procedure through a screen. Many patients still do not feel comfortable. After all, who wants their surgeon playing a video game on their body?

Further, robotic surgery is still being researched. For minimally invasive procedures, robotic assistance may help reduce blood loss, pain, and infection, and encourage faster recovery. In general, robotic surgery may be a valid (and safe) option for procedures that would have had to be “open” or more invasive without robots.

To return to the video game point for a moment, though, doctors have no tactile involvement during this surgery. As such, they may be less aware of arteries and organs. One Florida man, for instance, bled to death after his arteries were sliced by a doctor during a robotic kidney removal procedure.

The FDA has also approved robotically-assisted surgical (RAS) devices for cardiac, colorectal, gynecologic, thoracic, and urologic surgical procedures, as well as procedures involving the head or neck. The FDA has not approved the use of RAS devices for mastectomy and other cancer-related surgeries, particularly in women.

No Training Standards

Any doctor can be trained on robotic surgery, but AARP reveals there are no national training standards for robot surgery. In many cases, the safety of your robotic surgery will depend on your surgeon and the experience they have with this new technology. Ask your surgeon about their training, experience, and patient outcomes with robotically-assisted surgical device procedures and discuss possible implications. A good way to start this conversation is to ask how many RAS procedures your doctor has performed.

Before Getting Robotic Surgery

Make sure you don’t make your decision based on the glitz and glam of new technology and hospital marketing. If you are going through a routine procedure like a hernia repair or appendix removal, you may want to go the traditional route. In any case, be sure to clarify any questions or concerns you may have with your doctor.

Remember, you are well within your rights to opt-out of robotic surgery if you don’t feel comfortable.

After Robotic Surgery Complications

If you are experiencing adverse health events after a robotic surgery with da Vinci or another device, you should not have to suffer the consequences alone.

Be sure to report what happened to the FDA MedWatch program or call the FDA at 1-800-332-1088 to report via telephone.

You may also want to contact an attorney.

At The Gilbert Law Group®, our attorneys are experienced with personal injury claims of all shapes and sizes and we focus part of our practice on surgical robot claims.

Discuss your case with us at (888) 711-5947 or during a free consultation.


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