Robot-assisted surgeries not always free from surgical errors

Robotic surgery has gained popularity as a less invasive option; however, some question its safety. While human error on the operating table can lead to complications, robotic surgeries are not free from surgical errors. A federal agency is now examining failures related to the surgical devices.

Television network CNBC launched a series addressing complications caused by the da Vinci surgical robot following several deaths that resulted in lawsuits against Intuitive Surgical. Last year, doctors nationwide performed nearly 400,000 surgeries with the da Vinci robot. It is the only robotic technology cleared by the FDA for soft tissue surgery and the only product manufactured by Intuitive Surgical.

Alleged Surgeon Error Coupled With Design Flaws

A recent lawsuit against the manufacturer alleges that lack of training and design flaws caused the death of a young woman. The 24-year-old woman died of complications several weeks after a routine hysterectomy. The lawsuit claims that the young woman suffered massive blood loss after a laceration to a main artery. The device also allegedly burned one of her arteries and her intestines. The lawsuit claims that a surgeon's mistake and robot design flaws caused the complications.

Some physicians believe that robotic surgery is safe when physicians operating the device have proper training. Others would like to see more research on whether robotic surgery is really any safer than conventional surgery.

Surgical Errors and Hospital Profits

Also of concern to many in the medical profession is that hospitals sometimes make money from their own mistakes. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found the under the current payment system hospitals stand to lose money for taking better care of patients.

The study reviewed health records at 12 hospitals in Texas. It noted that hospital revenue for patients who suffered preventable complications — for example, infected incisions or pneumonia — quadrupled the length of the stay and hospital revenue averaged approximately $30,000 more than for patients with no complications.

Study authors were quick to point out that they did not believe hospitals sought to make money by causing complications or failing to address problems. The current payment system does mean that some error reduction methods, such as surgical checklists, could actually cost hospitals revenue.

Researchers suggest that insurers refuse to pay for substandard care and provide excellent care bonuses. Required disclosure of complication rates would be another step in the right direction.

If you or a loved one suffered a serious complication following a surgical procedure, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney. If lack of training or negligence caused the injury, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages and pain and suffering.