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Surgery with robots is not as safe as advertised

As more and more Massachusetts hospitals are performing delicate surgeries with the use of robotic tools, patients should be aware that this new medical technology is not necessarily foolproof. Even though no studies have proven robotic surgery to be safer or more effective than standard surgery, advocates of the technology have been heavily marketing it in recent years, often making dubious claims as to its superiority to standard procedures. Since 2009, around 70 robotic surgery patients have died due to ruptured arteries, infections and other surgical errors.

Robotic surgery is a technique in which doctors control the surgical tools via a camera and a robotic arm, rather than with their own hands. The technology has increased in usage by 60 percent since 2010, reaching about 350,000 surgeries a year. Half of all general surgeons plan to begin using it within the next couple of years. The technique is certainly popular, but it is also expensive. A typical surgical robot can cost 1.5 million dollars.

However, in recent months there have been some voices of dissent. The FDA has warned a manufacturer of the robots that it has not been reporting patient injuries sufficiently. A director of a Massachusetts hospital has claimed that the manufacturer's salesmen have undergone aggressive marketing techniques to increase the number of surgeries. A study at Johns Hopkins stated that manufacturers have exaggerated the benefits of the robots and downplayed the risks. Patients have complained that alternatives to robotic surgery were not explained to them, and some have deep misunderstandings about the nature of the technology.

As with any new technology, there is an understandable learning curve in doctors' skill using robots. However, high-pressure sales methods and faulty advertising can result in unnecessary danger in the operating room. An attorney experienced in malpractice may be able to help those who have been injured or misinformed about robotic surgery if they so choose to explore the possibility of compensation.

Source: Bloomberg, "Robot surgery damaging patients rises with marketing", Robert Langreth, October 07, 2013

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