The da Vinci robotic surgery system is a surgical system, operated robotically. It is made by a company called Intuitive Surgical, headquartered in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Sunnyvale, California. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the device in 2000 for performing a number of specific surgeries including prostatectomies and gynecological procedures. The system is designed to be minimally invasive.
Although the system was intended to be less invasive, more accurate, and therefore safer for patient, there have been reports of both mild and serious complications from patients undergoing robotic surgery. In addition to these risks Intuitive has also faced criticisms for the high price of the machine and the inability of surgeons to alter the procedures in anyway. There have even been lawsuits filed because of problems associated with da Vinci.
The Robotic Surgery System
The da Vinci robotic surgical system was invented to make surgeries more accurate, faster, and to cost less because of the need for fewer personnel. It was also designed to be minimally invasive, similar to laparoscopic surgery performed by an actual surgeon. Minimally invasive surgery is supposed to be safer, reduce the risk of complications, and require less recovery time for patients.
According to the company that makes it, the da Vinci system has performed over three million less invasive surgeries for people around the world. Currently the surgery system is used for cardiac, colorectal, gynecologic, thoracic, urologic, head and neck, and general surgeries.
How it Works
Contrary to how it seems a robotic surgery system must work, it is only operated with a surgeon at the helm. The movements of a surgeon’s hands are translated by the machine, which then makes smaller and more precise incisions and movements than the surgeon is able to do. The robotic system also gives the surgeon a better view of the patient, with a high definition, three-dimensional vision system.
The set up for da Vinci includes a console at which the surgeon works. This is often in the same room as the patient. There is a cart that sits at the side of the patient that has four different robotic arms. These hold surgical instruments and make the motions that the surgeon indicates. The robotic arms have “wrist joints” that are supposed to be more flexible and have a greater range of motion than the surgeons hands and wrists.
How the Surgery System Can Be Used
There are several different types of surgeries that can be performed using the da Vinci robotic system. These include gynecological surgeries like tubal ligation, surgeries to remove cancerous tissues, gallbladder removals, heart surgeries, and even hip replacements. One of the most common uses for the system is a prostatectomy, a removal of the prostate gland. The robotic system can be used for several other types of surgeries too. There are few limitations.
There may be few limitations on how the system can be used, but there are plenty of possible complications. As with any type of surgery, even minimally invasive surgery, there are some common possible risks. These include bad reactions to anesthesia, excessive bleeding, the formation of blood clots, nerve damage, and infection.
With da Vinci robotic surgery there are additional possible complications, including a longer operation time. This can mean that the patient may need to remain longer under anesthesia, which can be dangerous and may lead to breathing problems. A surgeon may need to decide that the patient requires a different surgical technique. Larger or additional incisions may become necessary if the robotic procedure doesn’t go as planned.
There have also been reports of much more serious complications blamed on the da Vinci system. Many patients have reported suffering burns from the system because of sparks created by the machine, as well as heat damage to organs. In some cases these injuries were not discovered for several days after the surgical procedure.
Other reports state that the machine cut patients incorrectly, in one case slicing a woman’s main artery and causing excessive bleeding that ultimately killed her. Other patients reported being hospitalized for weeks after robotic surgery because of the complications, like internal bleeding and scarring. Other reported incidents include torn organs, kidney and lung damage, infections, and equipment failure during a procedure. A study even found that there are likely more complications than are being reported.
High Cost and Other Criticisms
The safety issues are just the beginning of the complaints that many people have against the da Vinci robotic surgical system. Another major complaint is the cost. One robotic system costs around $2 million. This means that very few institutions and patients have access to this high technology. Many experts in health care and surgery question whether the high cost is worth it for a robotic surgery system.
The system is supposed to provide surgeries that are more accurate, less invasive, and therefore safer for patients, but the evidence that this pans out is limited. In one study researchers found that the amount of blood lost and other negative side effects of hysterectomy surgery were no better in patients undergoing the procedure with the robot and those who had traditional surgery. In spite of the high cost, and the lack of evidence that the machine is worth that cost, Intuitive has aggressively marketed its robotic surgery system.
Another concern is lack of training for surgeons using the robotic system. Complaints have arisen in lawsuits against Intuitive that they have not provided the best training for surgeons and even that the company has pushed institutions that have bought the systems to allow doctors with less experience to use the robot unsupervised. The FDA has announced that it is investigating training procedures and is encouraging better training for those doctors using robotic systems.
Since the da Vinci robotic surgery system came on the market in 2000 a number of lawsuits have been filed against Intuitive. Some of these are from people badly injured by the machine, while others represent patients who actually died because of a surgical procedure. One such lawsuit was filed by a father who lost his daughter to internal bleeding after a routine hysterectomy performed with the da Vinci system.
Other suits have been filed by patients who suffered torn organs, including one woman who suffered damage to her colon and rectum, required additional surgeries, and had to have a temporary colostomy. Another plaintiff filed a suit after being burned by the machine and suffering from perforation of the colon that led to serious and long-term health problems.
Intuitive is likely to face even more lawsuits as the damage caused to some individuals has been severe and life-threatening. Because there is some evidence that the company marketed a dangerous machine, pushed health care systems to purchase the system, and may even have downplayed the risks, these cases are likely to be found in favor of the plaintiffs. Intuitive may be paying out big settlements and jury-awarded compensation in the future. If you have been harmed by a da Vinci robotic surgery system, you too could be filing a lawsuit that would help you recover financial compensation. Let a lawyer help you decide what your options are and get you started.