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Danger at a Higher Cost: Da Vinci Robot Lawsuits Allege Robot Injury

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New York, NYIf it isn’t cheaper, and if it isn’t safer, then what’s the point? That’s the question many critics of the da Vinci robotic surgical system are asking after recent observations made by researchers serve to question the need, and indeed the wisdom, behind robot-assisted surgical procedures. Robotic surgery complications are also a concern, together with injuries that are causing would-be plaintiffs to seek out legal help in filing a robot lawsuit.

One such da Vinci Robot lawsuit is currently being tried in Washington state court, according to a PRWeb release (5/14/13). The wrongful death lawsuit was filed on behalf of the estate of Fred E. Taylor, a patient who died in August of last year due to serious injuries sustained, it is alleged, as the direct result of the involvement of a da Vinci surgical robot in a prostatectomy procedure. The case is Estate of Fred E. Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc., 09-2-03136-5, Superior Court, State of Washington, Kitsap County.

Prostate surgery is one of the common uses associated with the massive system, which hovers over the patient while the surgeon, from a distance, operates the system via remote control. There have been reports of da Vinci robot injury when the surgical arms associated with the mechanical goliath move or shift unexpectedly, or when an inadequately trained surgeon/operator errs. Previous reports have been critical that surgeons have been allowed to fly solo on the da Vinci system, unsupervised, too soon.

Advocates of surgical robots claim they advance minimally invasive surgery, making procedures safer and more precise. According to a report earlier this year from Bloomberg (2/18/13), robots were used in some 300,000 minimally invasive surgical procedures in 2012. Obviously, not all resulted in da Vinci robot injury.

Critics, however, cite the high cost of acquiring a da Vinci surgical robot, with hospitals feeling the pressure to employ the devices in procedures where their use is not warranted or appropriate. What’s more, research published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA, 2/20/13) found that hysterectomy procedures assisted by a robotic system cost upwards of $6,000 more than the least-expensive procedure.

“Our study indicates that, while robotic assistance was associated with increased use of minimally invasive surgery for hysterectomy, when compared with laparoscopic hysterectomy, the robotic procedure offers little short-term benefit and is accompanied by significantly higher costs,” stated the study authors.

Another study, presented to the AGM of the American Congress of Obstetrics and Gynecology earlier this spring, noted substantially increased costs associated with robot-assisted surgery while achieving no significant difference in complication rates as compared with traditional laparoscopy. In an interview posted at MedPageToday.com (5/8/13), Study author Mario Vega, MD, of St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York, maintained that traditional laparoscopy is “cheaper, faster, takes less time,” he said. “The bottom line is that if you have a good laparoscopy system, you don’t need [robotic assistance].

“If a surgeon is not comfortable with laparoscopy, it is useful. But otherwise, it should be reserved for more complicated surgeries,” Vega said.

Earlier this month, CNBC (5/10/13) reported on the issuance of an Urgent Medical Device Notification (UMDN) by da Vinci manufacturer Intuitive Surgical with regard to an instrument problem having the potential to foster surgical burns in some da Vinci patients. The manufacturer revealed to hospitals employing the da Vinci system that some models of monopolar curved scissors utilized by the da Vinci robot carried “micro-cracks that may create a pathway for electrosurgical energy to leak to tissue during use,” potentially causing da Vinci robot injury.

It has been reported that Intuitive Surgical, in a regulatory filing April 19 this year, noted the existence of 26 da Vinci Robot lawsuits filed on behalf of plaintiffs having suffered serious complications, allegedly due to da Vinci robot failure.

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