According to Bloomberg (4/18/13), Ryan Rhodes, director of marketing for Intuitive Surgical Inc, testified before a jury during a lawsuit that internal marketing documents identified surgeons that were seen as having limited skills in performing minimally invasive procedures. Those doctors were then allegedly targeted by the company’s marketing department for the da Vinci surgical system.
The lawsuit was filed by the widow of Fred Taylor, who died of heart failure four years after surgery to remove his prostate gland. The lawsuit alleges that heart failure stemmed from errors in the surgery, allegedly caused by Intuitive’s failure to adequately train the doctor who performed the procedure.
Intuitive has argued that the patient’s weight meant he should not have been a candidate for robotic surgery. A lawyer for the company told the jury that the doctor was warned that the laparoscopic robotic surgery should not be used on patients who are obese, although the doctor has said he received no such warning. The prostatectomy, which was supposed to take five hours, took more than 13 hours, according to The New York Times (3/25/13), and left Taylor with kidney and lung damage.
Attorneys for the plaintiff argue that Intuitive sales representatives played an important role in helping hospitals credential doctors to use the robot, encouraging the hospitals to adopt lower standards so more doctors could use the device. In some cases, sales representatives are reported to have had access to operating room schedules and helped select cases that the da Vinci robot could be used on.
The doctor who performed the surgery has settled with the patient’s family.
The da Vinci robot is marketed as being less invasive during prostatectomies and hysterectomies than traditional methods. Furthermore, it allows doctors to perform surgeries without worrying about shaking hands or tremors. The device consists of a three- or four-armed robot that is connected to a remote console. A doctor controls the robot from the console.
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Lawsuits have been filed alleging patients suffered serious injuries after the da Vinci robot was used during their surgeries. In one case, Time reports, a jury awarded $7.5 million to the family of a man who died after surgery on his spleen. The lawsuit alleged the patient’s intestines were punctured, causing an infection that resulted in the man’s death.
The lawsuit is Estate of Fred E. Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc., 09-2-03136-5, Superior Court, State of Washington, Kitsap County.