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Injury Risks Linked to da Vinci Surgical Robot Gaining National Attention

Jun 17, 2013

The risk of injury associated with the da Vinci Surgical Robot is garnering national attention lately, especially as use of the device increases and more Americans elect to undergo a procedure using it.

The dangers of the Intuitive Surgical da Vinci robot were featured on a recent episode of NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams. The report highlighted the story of one woman who underwent a hysterectomy procedure using the robot surgeon. At the time, she believed she was receiving the most advanced means of performing the surgery, but just five weeks after it was done, she suffered a major injury that has permanently changed her life, even more than the hysterectomy could.

At some point after that first month following the da Vinci-assisted hysterectomy, the woman, age 37, suffered an injury in which her intestines dropped out of her vagina. A surgery eventually corrected that condition but left her with a large, permanent scar on her abdomen, and she claims it has left her looking like “a monster” and has affected her physical relationship with her husband of just one year, according to the NBC report.

The woman has decided to file a lawsuit against Intuitive Surgical, the maker of the da Vinci surgical robot, claiming the company had failed to warn of the potential dangers associated with the device. She is one of thousands of people to file a lawsuit against Intuitive Surgical. NBC News reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has received a growing number of injury reports from recipients of a da Vinci-assisted surgery. Among those reports are 89 deaths.

The robot surgeon is used in myriad procedures, including gallbladder surgeries, prostate procedures, hysterectomies, heart surgeries, and other applications. As the robots become more common in hospitals across the country, more people are undergoing a procedure using one of them.

Specifically, use of the da Vinci surgical robot has increased exponentially in hysterectomies. Women who elect to undergo robot-assisted surgery are told that recovery times are shorter with this new technology. While that may have been proven with other procedures, data provided in the NBC News report shows that it’s not true with hysterectomies. And more women are choosing to have this delicate surgery done with the da Vinci robot. While just one-half percent of all hysterectomies in the U.S. were performed with the da Vinci robot in 2007, that number jumped to 9.5 percent three years later, in 2010. Overall, the da Vinci robot is used in hundreds of thousands of procedures annually, but at the same time, the rate of injury reports is on the rise.

Intuitive Surgical has been accused of several faults in its introduction of the da Vinci surgical robot, based on our previous reports. These include pressuring hospitals into purchasing the device following the tactic that one must keep up with competitors. Further, as more robots are sold, Intuitive has been accused of “watering down” the training program to certify surgeons to be able to use it. In fact, a surgeon does not even have to accomplish a supervised surgery using the robot on a patient before that surgeon is allowed to use the device on their own. In other reports, Intuitive has been accused of downplaying the risks associated with the da Vinci; namely, the risks of serious injury and death.

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