Study: Robotic Surgery Costly, No Significant Health Benefits

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A major study questions the use of robotic surgery, specifically, the da Vinci Surgical Robot System, over other minimally invasive procedures, as its use continues to rise.

Although some 1,370 hospitals nationwide have bought one of the expensive robots—they cost $1.5-$2.2 million each—the da Vinci Surgical Systems might not offer any significant health or financial benefits, said The Wall Street Journal. The da Vinci Surgical Robot System, which is manufactured by Intuitive Surgical Inc. of Sunnyvale, California, costs about 30 percent more than other minimally invasive surgery. The Columbia University study findings appear in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

The da Vinci Surgical Robot System is the only such devices used for general surgery and has been used in a broad and growing range of procedures such as prostate, gallbladder, cardiovascular, and gynecological surgery, said the Journal. In robotic assisted surgery, a surgeon is seated at a console operating four robotic arms that manipulate small tools that are inserted into the patient via tiny incisions, explained the Journal. The system also utilizes a small, lighted camera that displays the surgical area in 3-D video.

Some argue that robotic surgery creates less scarring, pain and blood loss; decreased complications; shorter hospital stays; and quicker recovery when compared to traditional open surgery in which a larger incision is made and the healing time is longer, said the Journal. But, critics of the device say it is the minimal invasiveness of the procedures and not the robotics that offer the advantage. Consider, noted the Journal, laparoscopic surgery that involves surgeons manipulating specialty tools, utilizing video, and creating small incisions, at a significantly lower cost.

We previously wrote that at least four personal injury lawsuits alleged the da Vinci Surgical Robot caused severe internal injuries, including burns, tears and other complications, some of which had resulted in death or chronic pain and disability. Among other things, da Vinci Surgical Robot lawsuits fault the aggressive marketing tactics used by Intuitive to convince hospitals to purchase the expensive surgical robot, and allege that a combination of design flaws inherent in the robot, coupled with poor physician training on the device, has resulted in serious injuries.

Last May, we wrote that another lawsuit had been filed by a victim of an allegedly botched surgery using the da Vinci Surgical Robot. In that case, an Alabama woman claimed that Intuitive Surgical suppressed complaints and concealed rates of complications associated with the robot from the public and federal health regulators. She is seeking $270 million in damages.

The Alabama complaint is among several lawsuits filed nationwide that allege that da Vinci Surgical Robot design flaws, coupled with a lack of adequate training on the part of surgeons who use the device, have caused serious injuries to patients, including tears and burns to blood vessels, the intestines, and the uterus, as well as vaginal cuff dehiscence, to name just a few.

In the case of the-then 43-year-old women who underwent a hysterectomy at the Nelson Center for Women in Meridian, Mississippi, the lawsuit faulted the tactics used by Intuitive to convince hospitals to purchase the expensive surgical robot, stating: “Defendant sold it [sic] device through a calculated program of intimidation and market management, forcing hospitals and physicians to purchase it in order to appear to be competitive, and creating a fear in their minds that if they did not have this technology they would lose business to competitors.”

Following her da Vinci-assisted hysterectomy, the woman was readmitted to the hospital within the week for a fever and “shaking chills.” The lawsuit alleges the woman was treated for pelvic abscess along the vaginal cuff; was forced to undergo additional surgery; and, years later, continues to suffer from pain and discomfort.

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