Medical technology is a dynamic field. The developments that are emerging are simply staggering, and continue to change the face of medical care in the twenty-first century. One such technological advance is the da Vinci robotic surgery device, produced by Intuitive Surgical Inc. According to a report by Bloomberg News, as many as 350,000 surgeries were performed last year in the United States employing the da Vinci. Supporters of the device emphasize the many benefits of the da Vinci robot. But a growing number of malfunctions have caused doctors and legal experts alike to question the reliability of such robotic instruments.
The FDA collects reports of malfunctions that have led to injuries and deaths. However, the list is far from exhaustive. Critics have voiced strong opposition to the lack of an organized system of data collection regarding the da Vinci.
One example of the type of injury for which the da Vinci may be responsible is the case of an individual who was admitted to the hospital for a hysterectomy. The procedure was completed with the use of a da Vinci robotic device. Two days later, doctors discovered a hole in her intestine. Another individual underwent surgery to remove his prostate. During the surgery, he suffered damage to his nervous system. Neither of these examples of possible malfunction appear on the FDA’s list of robotic device’s malfunctions.
In 2003, 823 hospitals reported at least one incident of injury during a robotic surgery. However, in 2007, only 519 hospitals reported incidents- a decline of 37%. This trend has led many experts to the conclusion that many cases of malfunction are simply not being reported. Nevertheless, despite the lack of exact reporting, there still has been an overall rise in cases of injury and death associated with the da Vinci device. By November 3rd, 2013, 3,697 cases had been reported to the FDA that year alone.
CNBC reports that one of the da Vinci’s most vocal critics is Dr. Marty Makary of Johns Hopkins University. Makary is a pancreatic specialist who has been trained to use the da Vinci robot in surgery. He believes that many cases of malfunction remain unreported, and believes that new medical technology must be better regulated and monitored. He explains that one of the major weaknesses of the da Vinci is that it lacks tactile sensitivity. Whereas a doctor will feel if he or she is inadvertently causing harm to a nearby vessel or organ, the robot’s arm will not. Due to the sensitive nature of surgery, one slight abrasion of a vessel could cause life-threatening hemorrhaging.
As the number of reported cases of patients injured by the da Vinci continues to grow, public awareness of the dangers grows as well. More and more victims will emerge- specifically, people who never even realized that the robotic device may have been responsible for their post-surgical problems.
Patients who have reason to believe that they have been victims of a da Vinci robotic surgery malfunction should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss possible legal recourse. Only an experienced lawyer who is knowledgeable of the details of the malfunctions as well as the legal ramifications can help victims procure the compensation they deserve.