It seems that robots designed to assist surgeons in certain operations are becoming more human every day. A recent incident reported involved the most classic of surgical errors: retained surgical instrument.
Roughly 80% of all robot-assisted operations are gynecologic in nature, such as hysterectomies. The most recent adverse event which captured the media’s assistance was the case of a Portland woman who complained of chronic abdominal pain shortly after having a da Vinci robot-assisted hysterectomy in 2012. After months of enduring the pain and going through a whole gamut of treatments, it was finally discovered through an X-ray that a metallic piece from the robot had broken off and had been left behind. It seemed too incredible to be true.
There were 367,000 procedures done using the da Vinci Surgical System in 2012, and a relatively small number of adverse events have been reported with its use, certainly not much different for what has been reported for a relatively similar approach using a laparoscopy, which is also minimally invasive. But because Intuitive Surgical Inc., manufacturer of the da Vinci robot, had made such glowing announcements about the technology, people expected much more than the system could deliver. Moreover, there were implied and expressed guarantees to surgeons reluctant to try the system that led to preventable surgical errors arising from inadequate training in its use.
According to the National Injury Law Center, many of the patients who had a negative experience with the da Vinci system had to have additional surgery to rectify surgical injuries; and those were the fortunate ones. Others had irreparable damage done, leaving them with diminished capacities. Some have even led to death. While any surgery carries risks, the use of robot-assisted technology has opened up new vistas in surgical errors, which is why Intuitive is being sued for these injuries rather than the surgeons or hospitals.