Bloomberg News-Eleven days after what was supposed to be a simple hysterectomy performed by robotic surgery, Kimberley, a young woman from New York, died from bowel damage.
Another patient, Michelle Zarick, opted for a robotically-assisted surgery to remove growths found on her uterus. Shortly after surgery, she discovered her intestine protruding from her vagina, which required corrective surgery. To this day, she suffers from constipation caused by damaged rectal muscles. Zarick v. Intuitive Surgical, Inc., a lawsuit filed on Michelle Zarick’s behalf purports that the robot tools did not have proper insulation leading to electrical burns surrounding her tissue. Intuitive Surgical is the maker of the da Vinci Surgical System, the world’s leading manufacturer of robots used for surgery.
Robotic surgery was designed for complex surgeries that involve hard-to-reach places. It is one of the fastest growing types of surgery today. During a robotically-assisted surgery, the surgeon sits at a 3-D computer station and controls surgical instruments by foot pedals and mechanical arms. The surgery has been heavily marketed to doctors and patients as an alternative to open-surgery and laparoscopy, promising minimal blood loss and scarring, plus a swifter recovery time. But the procedure supposedly reserved for complex surgeries, is now being used for all kinds of common procedures (such as hysterectomies), resulting is unnecessary and dangerous complications. Currently, hysterectomies make up half of the robotic surgeries performed today.
Due to the surge in reported complications arising from robotic surgeries, the FDA has prompted a study to find out the causes of these adverse effects. According to the “Intuitive Robot Probe Threatens Trend-Setting Surgeries,” and article on March 5, 2013 in Bloomberg news, some of the complaints the FDA has seen include damage to ureters and bowels, burned organs and tissue, and instances when instruments broke off from the robot and fell into patients.
Another daunting drawback is that doctor’s lose the ability to feel the tissue that they are grabbing and therefore lose the ability to feel how well they are cutting and how tightly in place their stitches are. Robotic surgeries also take longer than traditional surgeries.
Robotically-assisted surgeries are not only potentially dangerous for common procedures, they are costly. In the same Bloomberg article mentioned above, “a study found that robotic operations cost hospitals $2,189 more per procedure than performing the same surgery without the robot.” The machines themselves cost $1.5 million each and are driving up health care costs for procedures where it makes no tangible difference as to which type of surgery is employed.
Robotic in some cases does not equate to reduced complications, it just means a higher cost. Joel Weissman from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston who wrote an article for the Journal of the American Medical Association on robotic surgery explained to Reuters that, “What’s happening is you have an expensive technology that’s being used for less and less necessary things.”
Forbes magazine wrote an online piece on the da Vinci’s impressive stock. It cites one of the reasons for its rapid growth as aggressive marketing and an expansion of procedures. Aggressive marketing and the use of robots for procedures that produce the same results as traditional surgery maybe doing the patient more harm than good.