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FDA: Robotic surgery linked to fatalities

Back in the summer of 2009, a large Boston hospital welcomed a new member to its surgical team: a robotic system named da Vinci.

The multi-armed, multi-million-dollar member of the team was heralded for its ability to assist in minimally invasive heart surgeries that would help patients recover faster and with less pain.

Unfortunately, this same surgical system was recently linked by the Food and Drug Administration to several deaths. And CBS reports that the da Vinci system has been involved in surgical errors and "a few disturbing, freak accidents" as well.

The $2.5 million robotic assistant helped perform 400,000 surgeries last year, CBS said.

But in one of those surgeries, the surgeon-directed robot refused to release its grip on a patient's tissue and in another operation, it hit a patient in the face.

Even worse, the FDA said in a statement that the da Vinci has been linked to at least five patient deaths.

Some critics say too many hospitals were convinced to buy the robotic systems by slick marketing and the promise of increased profits. The critics charge, too, that hospitals and doctors weren't careful enough in assessing whether or not the robotic assistant is safe for use on patients.

The da Vinci can be used in heart surgeries, and also operations including hysterectomies, gallbladder or prostate removals and also in some organ transplants.

"We are at the tip of the iceberg," the chief of robotic surgery at one hospital said. "What we thought was impossible 10 years ago is now commonplace."

Proponents of the da Vinci say the precision systems help surgeons perform intricate, less invasive procedures that cause less bleeding and help patients recover faster. Plus, they note, a robot never tires and its hands never shake.

Anyone who has lost a loved one due to surgical error or negligence should speak with a law firm experienced in medical malpractice litigation.

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

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