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Controversy over Surgical Robots Heats Up as Patient Complaints Increase

Critics of the da Vinci® surgical robot are questioning why the devices are still being used as more injuries and deaths are being reported. Lawsuits alleging that the surgical robot has caused surgical burns, death and other serious injuries have already been filed against Intuitive.

For example, a da Vinci surgical robot lawsuit was filed on behalf of the family of a patient who died in August 2012 due to injuries allegedly sustained as a result of use of a surgical robot during a prostatectomy procedure. The case is Estate of Fred E. Taylor v. Intuitive Surgical Inc., 09-2-03136-5, Superior Court, State of Washington, Kitsap County.

During surgery, the surgeon controls the surgical robot with hand and foot controls. While Intuitive claims that the robot allows surgery to be performed with greater precision and accuracy, those in opposition argue that the robot can cause serious injuries such as lacerations to major arteries and organs if the arms shift expectantly.

Another argument is that surgeons aren’t being properly trained to use the robots, creating more room for errors. The lack of training is being blamed on Intuitive, which has been accused of using aggressive marketing tactics to get surgeons and hospitals to purchase and use the expensive surgical systems even during procedures that would be best performed conventionally.

According to the FDA, the number of complaints associated with the surgical robots has gone up. And, in an effort to determine the cause for the increase in complaints, the agency has been interviewing surgeons about their experiences with the systems, including their training.