Robosurgery under fire as death toll rises

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Robotic surgery seems like the wave of the future. Instead of clumsy human hands, the procedures are performed by high-tech robots with increasingly delicate movements. Still, the robotic surgery systems may not be as beneficial as physicians once thought; new information shows that the devices that are manufactured by Intuitive Surgical are linked to at least 70 deaths. As a result, product liability lawsuits are increasing in frequency. More horror stories seem to be revealed every day about the machines’ shortcomings.

One woman experienced significant health problems after undergoing robotic surgeries to fix growths in her uterus. Her gynecologist had encouraged her to choose the robotic option because it was reportedly more reliable for the delicate surgery procedure. Just five weeks later, part of the woman’s abdomen gave way, causing her intestine to suddenly protrude from her vagina as she was using the restroom. Now, that woman has hip-to-hip scars from manual corrective surgery, and she is suffering from a litany of preventable health problems.

The woman has filed a lawsuit against the company, one of at least 10 that have been filed in the past 14 months in connection with surgical mistakes.

Intuitive’s systems are the only robots that are cleared for use in soft-tissue operations in the United States. Those procedures include general surgery, gynecological surgery and prostate operations, among others. About 367,000 surgeries were performed using the systems in 2012 alone.

Experts say patients are generally impressed by physicians who recommend the robotic surgery. Still, randomized trials do not show a marked benefit from the robot method, which provides about the same results as other minimally invasive options. Still, hospitals are marketing the robotic surgery as safer and more accurate, a move that is convincing many patients to put themselves in harm’s way.

People who have suffered health problems because of robotic surgery could recover financial damages for their medical bills, along with additional compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress and disfigurement, depending on the nature of their injuries.

Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, “Robosurgery suits detail injuries as death reports rise,” Robert Langreth, March 5, 2013.