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Do doctors get enough training before performing robotic surgery?

Last month on our Chicago medical malpractice law blog, we had mentioned that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is asking doctors to take part in a survey regarding a newer medical device that is gaining popularity in hospitals in Illinois and throughout the country. The FDA wants to learn more about how surgeons are using robotic systems during operations on patients, and the FDA also wants to hear more about some of the challenges and complications surgeons may be coming across when using robots to perform surgeries.

The robots that are being used in more U.S. operating rooms are manufactured by Intuitive Surgical Inc., and the robotic system is named da Vinci. The medical device allows surgeons to control the robot while performing surgeries, which is less exhausting for surgeons during longer procedures. Surgical procedures performed by the da Vinci device may also help to reduce bleeding, and some operations may be performed by making fewer incisions.

Although the devices are being used more in the U.S., the FDA is concerned about the number of reports it has received within the past year regarding the robotic systems. The FDA reported that about 500 complaints were filed during 2012. Complaints include reports of at least five patients dying during robotic procedures. This may certainly cause some to question whether the device has been properly designed to perform surgeries, but others are questioning whether doctors are receiving enough training before using the devices.

Intuitive Surgical does train surgeons on how to operate the da Vinci system; however, it is up to surgeons and hospitals to make sure they know how to use the devices to perform the operations they are doing on patients. Currently, there do not appear to be any guidelines medical professionals can follow to determine whether they are experienced enough to safely perform surgeries using the robotic systems.

According to reports, the da Vinci system was used to perform only 114,000 surgeries in the U.S. in 2008. More than 365,000 surgeries were performed using the da Vinci system during 2012. With more surgeries being performed, hospitals and doctors need to make sure they receive adequate training to use the devices safely.

In 2007, a Chicago man died after a robotic procedure because the robot had punctured the man’s intestines. His family won a wrongful death lawsuit last year after claiming the man’s surgeon was not experienced enough at the time to perform a robotic surgical operation. The man’s family received $7.5 million for the fatal surgical error.

Source: CBS News, “FDA eyes increase in freak accidents during robotic surgeries,” April 9, 2013

  • Our Chicago firm provides counsel to patients and families who have been harmed by surgical errors, including errors made during robotic surgeries. To learn more about protecting your rights after being harmed by medical malpractice, please visit our surgical errors attorneys page.

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