Are robotic surgical errors on the rise?

By Greg Kohn

The term surgery invokes images of bright lights over a patient with nurses and doctors in surgical gowns, gloves and masks hovering over a patient about to undergo a procedure. This traditional imagery of surgery may change as robotic surgery gains acceptance for minimally invasive surgeries in numerous fields. However, despite the use of robots to perform surgery, the risk of mistakes during surgery is still very real.

Residents of New Jersey may find it interesting to learn that a little over five years ago the use of robotic surgery started with the fields of gynecology and urology, but eventually included other specialties such as cardiology. Hospitals that use robotic surgery may use the da Vinci robot from Intuitive Surgical. All this may sound fascinating, but the surgical errors and mistakes that could occur as a result of using the da Vinci robot may be underreported and can result in serious injury and death.

In fact, the FDA is looking into reports of problems with the da Vinci robot wherein several deaths and freak accidents have occurred. In one freak accident, the robotic arm did not let go of tissue grasped during a colorectal surgery. Apparently, the entire system had to be shut down to get the jaws of the robot open. In another incident a patient was hit in the face during her hysterectomy by the robotic arm.

Several deaths have also been associated with robotic surgery. In 2012, during a hysterectomy, a surgeon-controlled robot nicked a blood vessel and the female patient died. In other incidents a Chicago man died after his spleen surgery and a New York man’s colon was perforated during his prostate surgery.

The technology is new and surgeons will have to learn to familiarize themselves with all the controls. Robotic surgery and surgeon-controlled robotic arms may be the future of surgery, but nevertheless as their use increases incidents of mistakes during surgery may also increase.

Source: The Sentinel, “FDA examines robotic surgery after hundreds of reports of problems,” Naomi Creason, April 9, 2013

About the Author
Greg Kohn is a partner at Nagel Rice and specializes in complex civil litigation cases, including professional malpractice, personal injury, class actions, wrongful death, products liability, and commercial litigation.  He has extensive experience representing clients in both state and federal court. Greg has tried many jury trials to verdict and has recovered over $50 million in settlements and verdicts in all types of personal injury matters including automobile accidents, wrongful death cases, slip and falls, and other catastrophic injury cases. Greg also handles medical malpractice cases, involving misdiagnoses, wrongful birth, and delayed cancer diagnosis. If you have questions regarding this article, you can contact Greg here.