Surgical Robots: The Risks You Need To Know

December 30, 2019
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There’s no doubt that advanced technology has significantly benefited the health care industry. But patients considering going under the knife of a surgical robot may want to do their research first.  

According to U.S. News and World Report, more than 2,000 patients have been injured, 274 were killed, and 17,000 experienced malfunctions during robotic-assisted surgeries in the last 10 years. If you have been considering a procedure involving a surgical robot, know the risks and benefits before you book your appointment.  

It’s important to note that we are in no way giving medical or surgical advice. As dedicated safety and health advocates, we believe it’s of utmost importance to stay informed about your health and the policies and issues that could affect it.  

Risks of Surgical Robots  

Surgical robots have been around for decades, but they are far from perfect. A study published in the U.S. National Library of Medicine reports surgical robots initially became popular around the 1990s as a way to perform minimally invasive surgery. The first robot used in an advanced surgery was called the PUMA 200, a laparoscopic tool used for needle placement during a CT-guided brain biopsy.  

Despite the overwhelming benefits of laparoscopic procedures compared to traditional open surgery techniques, advancements since have failed to reduce the risk for errors still causing life-threatening injuries. Some patients have experienced damages from surgical robots such as nicked blood vessels, perforated organs, or internal injuries sustained from instruments and machine parts falling into the operating site. These are the most common risks leading to these accidents patients should be aware of:  

Poor Training  

Many of the errors caused by surgical robots related to organ nicks and instrument mishaps can be traced back to poor training. Surgeons quoted in the U.S. News article described robotic-assisted surgery as the ‘Wild West’ of surgical training. There are no standardized training or unified credentials for procedures utilizing robotic medical equipment in the United States. Robotic credentialing is currently the responsibility of the hospital where the procedure takes place, and the standards vary greatly nationwide.  

Defective Machines 

Even the best surgeons in the country might not be able to stop an injury caused by malfunctioning or defects of a robot. When a human doctor is conducting surgery, their ability to start and stop what they are doing is almost instant. With a robot, surgeons only have so much control if a defect takes control of the operation, or worse, if a robot ceases to respond during critical maneuvers.  

Procedures Are Stressful  

Surgical robots do not make for stress-free surgeries. The robots may be doing some of the work, but surgeons are the ones in control of their actions. One medical professional interviewed by U.S. News reported that procedures he performed using surgical robots were sometimes more stressful. Robot malfunctions have become an additional risk medical professionals must prepare for during surgery. And increased stress in the operating room allows for preventable errors to occur.  

High Expense  

Patients considering robotic surgeries must be aware of the dramatic differences when it comes to cost. According to Reuters, robotic-assisted procedures using popular machines such as the one of a kind da Vinci robot system can cost thousands more. Longer operating times and elevated supply costs the overall cost of the procedure to rise, but it doesn’t mean the results will necessarily be more successful.  

Not Every Procedure Is Appropriate 

Some physicians are using surgical robots to perform procedures without evidence to prove they will be successful. In the beginning of 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (F.D.A) issued a written warning to patients diagnosed with or at risk for breast cancer who were considering robotic-assisted mastectomy procedures. Experts cautioned that a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of surgical robots in removing or preventing breast cancer could cause patients to undergo unnecessary risks. Yet, some surgeons will still offer the option.  

Benefits of Robotically-Assisted Surgery  

Surgical robots are the wave of the future, and there are benefits for qualified candidates, including:  

  • smaller cuts and incisions.  
  • reduced blood loss 
  • less scarring 
  • reduced risk of infection  
  • decreased blood loss 
  • shorter recovery time 

Compared to the rate of medical errors associated with open surgeries, surgical robots have significantly cut down these risks by minimizing the surgical area exposed. Doctors can perform a variety of high-risk procedures with only using small cuts and incisions. They can also precisely place tools in areas of the body they may have done blindly or in good faith without advanced technology.  

Best Practices for Robotic Surgery  

Not every patient is an ideal candidate for robotic-assisted surgery, and not every produce can be assisted by a robot.  

A study published by JAMA Network identifies the following risk factors than can increase a patient’s chances of complications and injury during a robotic-assisted procedure:  

  • Individuals over the age of 70 
  • BMI of less than 30  
  • ASA score of 3 or greater  
  • hypertension 
  • cardiovascular disease 
  • renal comorbidity 
  • malignant diseases  
  • blood loss of 500 mL or greater 
  • patients undergoing advanced procedures  

Several procedures have been successfully performed with surgical robots, but not all. These are some of the most common procedures most often completed with robotic-assistance:  

  • Coronary artery bypass 
  • Gallbladder removal 
  • Hip replacement 
  • Hysterectomy 
  • Kidney removal 
  • Kidney transplant 
  • Mitral valve repair 
  • Pyeloplasty  
  • Pyloroplasty 
  • Radical prostatectomy 
  • Radical cystectomy 
  • Tubal ligation 

If you are considering robotic-assisted surgery for your procedure, talk to your doctor about the risks and emergency plans before you make your decision:  

For more information on these procedures and robotic surgery, visit the resources below:  

Connecticut Medical Malpractice Attorneys  

Hospitals and medical professionals have an obligation to prevent their patients from foreseeable harm. If you or a loved has been injured due to the medical negligence of a health care facility or physician, you may be eligible to receive compensation for any damages suffered. Contact our expert team of medical malpractice attorneys at Jacobs & Wallace for a free consultation and to explore your options. 

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