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Surgical errors from robotic surgeries may be underreported

Robotic surgery offers many benefits to American patients, including New Yorkers. Compared to surgery in which physicians open the body using scalpels to perform operations, robotically assisted surgeries have minimal scarring, less pain and discomfort and reduced risk of infection because of the smaller incisions through which remotely controlled devices perform critical functions. Due to these advantages, many hospitals now employ robotic surgical systems to stay competitive and to prevent or minimize surgical errors and postsurgery complications.

Robotic surgery is under scrutiny, however, after a study published in the Journal for Healthcare Quality earlier this year revealed that robotic surgeries have been involved in 245 incidents life-threatening incidents. Of these, 174 were nonfatal injuries -- but 71 were fatalities. Five other incidents were not reported to the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA is responsible for evaluating and approving products, including robotic surgery. When medical devices improperly function, hospitals are required to report the incidents to the manufacturers and ultimately the FDA.

In addition, the study found that 37 percent of hospitals that offer robotic surgery did not discuss potential complications with patients.

Clearly, robotically assisted surgery shows promise, but the study shows that such surgery is also subject to surgical error. Whether surgical error follows from a physician's improper use of medical equipment, product defects or procedural error, it is up to hospitals and doctors to not only report each incident but also keep the patient from potential harm.

Whenever a doctor or hospital in New York fails to prevent surgical errors or complications that develop from robotic surgical procedures, legal options may be available to help a patient recover compensation for damages associated with a surgical error.

Source: PBS Newshour, "Mishaps and deaths caused by surgical robots going underreported to FDA", Marissa Evans, Nov. 1, 2013

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