Robots Help Perform 300,000 Surgeries per Year in U.S., with Varying Results

Thursday, May 30, 2013
Operation using da Vinci robotics (photo: Intuitive Surgical Inc.)

Some of the most delicate incisions performed in operating rooms today are handled by robots. For better or worse.


One type of surgical robot, known as the da Vinci Robotic Surgical System, can be found in about 1,400 U.S. hospitals. It is responsible for more than 300,000 operations annually.


Types of operations involving robots include hysterectomies, those on the prostate and cervix, as well as other areas of the body.


The robots are controlled by surgeons who manipulate the machine’s arms, similarly to a concern pianist.


Some who have used the technology say that the $2-million machine should be used with the same degree of caution as any surgery. However, the risks are said to be less, given that incisions are smaller and more precise, and recovery time is reduced.


However, regulators at the Food and Drug Administration have expressed some safety concerns regarding the da Vinci surgical system.


The maker of this robot, Intuitive Surgical, is currently being sued in dozens of cases. Plaintiffs have alleged the robot was responsible for sepsis, surgical burns, excessive bleeding, severe bowel injuries, and punctured blood vessels, organs or arteries. Some of those injuries have allegedly even led to death.


In one civil suit, a Washington state jury decided Intuitive Surgical was not negligent in its responsibility to properly train a doctor who used its robotic surgery system.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Robots Playing a Larger Role in Operating Rooms (by Dan Goldberg, Newark Star-Ledger)

Gynecologists Question Use Of Robotic Surgery For Hysterectomies (by Michelle Andrews, NPR)

Intuitive Robotic Surgery Case Goes to Seattle-Area Jury (by Patricia Guthrie and Joel Rosenblatt, Bloomberg)

Patients Scarred After Robotic Surgery (by Herb Greenberg, CNBC)

Skilled Surgeon Performs a Robotic Prostatectomy (by Andre Malok, Newark Star-Ledger) (video)

Comparative Effectiveness Research on Robotic Surgery (by Joel S. Weissman, PhD, and Michael Zinner, MD, Journal of American Medical Association) (abstract)

Robots Seen as Filling Caregiver Vacuum for Aging Baby Boomers (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)                      

First Heart Surgery Performed by Remote-Controlled Robot (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)         


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