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United Kingdom Joins Alarm Over Robot Surgery

Oct 23, 2013

With a rising number of robot-assisted surgeries being performed in Great Britain, experts there are now voicing concerns about the safety and effectiveness of robotic procedures heard in the U.S., and they are warning of a mounting toll of injuries and deaths associated with Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot system.

Robotic surgery has been made to sound like the ultimate in safe and efficient 21st-century healthcare, the U.K.’s Daily Mail reports. Promotional material describes how a computer-directed robot replaces a potentially fallible human hand to perform micro-accurate procedures on tissues deep within the body. Using finer instruments should reduce blood loss and the need for transfusions and allow for quicker recovery. But reports of injuries and complications are piling up, with complaints that include punctured blood vessels or organs, severe bowel injuries, burns, and sepsis (life-threatening infection).

The da Vinci robot system is linked to at least 70 deaths reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 2009, according to Bloomberg News. One of these deaths occurred during a 2012 hysterectomy when the robot accidentally nicked a blood vessel, and another involved a Chicago man who died in 2007 after spleen surgery.

The da Vinci robot, introduced in 2000, is now widely used in hysterectomies, gallbladder removal, prostatectomies, and repair of damaged heart valves, though there have not yet been studies demonstrating superior outcomes with the robot. Many of the lawsuits filed against Intuitive Surgical allege that the robot’s wide adoption is due in part to aggressive marketing by Intuitive, which minimizes the risks of robotic surgery. In a number of cases, plaintiffs claim their surgeons were inadequately trained in the use of the robot.

Adding to the concerns in the U.K., according to the Daily Mail, is the fact that no official body is responsible for overseeing the safety of robotic technology or monitoring its effectiveness, nor is there any official system to ensure that only properly trained surgeons are allowed to use the equipment.

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