Using medical robots to aid in surgeries has been gaining popularity lately. During a robotic surgery a doctor sits at a video-game like console several feet from the patient and watches a high-definition display. Foot pedals and hand controls are used to maneuver the mechanical arms equipped with surgical tools. There is also a camera that provides a three dimensional view of the work the doctors are doing inside the patient.
Regulators in the United States are watching surgeries that use the robot option to verify their safety. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has asked surgeons to list the complications they may have seen with the machines. In the past year the machines have been used in nearly 500,000 procedures. Doctors were also surveyed to determine what type of surgeries the robots might be best and least suited for.
The doctors’ answers may determine whether the less invasive robotic surgeries are worth the extra costs. Of the nearly 500,000 procedures involving medical robots last year they were used in several types of surgeries including prostate removals, gynecological procedures, and heart surgery. Adverse effects associated with robotic surgeries include burns to vessels and organs and damage bowels and ureters. There were not any robot malfunctions reported with these surgeries. The errors made during the surgeries were attributed to the users of the technology.
The FDA has reported that as the number of surgeries that use the robots increases, the number of injuries increases as well. In 2009 there were 24 reported cases of injuries and 11 deaths. In 2012 there were 115 reported injuries and 30 deaths. Given the rapid increase in the use of robots during surgery, the rise in adverse events is not necessarily alarming. When compared to the error and mortality rates of regular surgeries the figures for surgeries that use the robots are relatively small. The robots with the redundancies in their systems are considered very safe.
Despite the lower number of errors and mortality rates associated with the use of robots during surgery there are still going to be errors that result in medical malpractice lawsuits. Medical practitioners are still in control of medical robots and the improper use of the equipment can still be considered negligence.
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