Robotic surgery dates only to the early 1990s. Since its approval by the FDA in 2000, more than a million robotic surgeries have been performed with the da Vinci Surgical System alone. Surgical robots can be a technological boon, allowing for precise surgical movements impossible to achieve with the human hand, and they are increasingly common during prostate cancer procedures and hysterectomies. However, problems are arising.
With a high-profile 2013 da Vinci recall garnering attention, some wonder if robotic surgeries are over-prescribed. While hospitals clamor to meet the “technology curve,” promoting this latest robot-assisted surgical approach, device failure and what some speculate to be a lack of adequate surgeon training have caused problems for trusting patients. The results can be devastating, as any review of the major media coverage can attest.
Common Robotic Surgeries
Robotic surgery has grown more common across a range of procedures, although a lack of randomized trials of sufficient size draws into question some claims of enhanced efficacy. During robot-assisted surgery, the surgeon mans an enormous console outside of the direct surgical area (or even off site), and the robot performs the procedure based on their prompts. Promoted as highly accurate and minimally invasive, computer-assisted surgery is common in the following areas.
- Prostate cancer surgery
- Head and neck surgery
- Abdominal surgery
- Gall bladder removals
- Heart valve surgery
- Other soft-tissue operations
Risks and Common Injuries
With rising demand among hospitals and surgeons, JP Morgan Chase & Co. reported in 2013 that half of surgeons plan to add use of robotic systems within two years. More than 2,000 da Vinci robotic systems were sold in the last decade alone – and now face the need for inspection in light of the recall. As such, it is critical that patients fully understand the risks, which may not always be comprehensively explained.
Adverse events linked to surgical robots increased 34% between 2011 and 2012, from improperly mounted surgical arms to surgeon error. The FDA also acknowledges that robosurgery-related deaths and injuries are going underreported, which means the number of individuals suffering as a result of injury or the loss of a loved one may be much higher. Reported medical complications include:
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Organ puncture
- Vaginal cuff dehiscence
- Intestinal tears
- Blood vessel or ureter damage
- Erroneous removal of limbs and organs
- The need for additional surgical procedures