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Robot-assisted surgeries may not be safe for patients

All surgical procedures have risks but do patients who have surgery with robotic devices have an increased risk for being harmed? The Food and Drug Administration is trying to answer that question to make sure patients are not suffering surgical errors and complications from the robotic devices.

Robot-assisted surgeries have significantly increased during the last few years in U.S. hospitals. Last year, there were roughly 400,000 surgical procedures using the robotic system, compared to only 114,000 in 2008.

How do robot-assisted surgeries work? The most commonly used robot-assisted surgical device has either three or four arms on the robot that surgeons operate with hand controls and a computer system several feet away from the patient. Surgeons use a video camera on the robot's arm to see the patient and use the robot's other arms to perform the surgery with special instruments made for the robot. The most common types of surgeries done with the robot are prostate removal, hysterectomies and organ transplants.

Many surgeons support using robotic devices to perform certain surgeries, saying that it is less tiring and surgeons don't have to worry about shaky hands that can lead to mistakes. Advocates of robotic-assisted surgeries say that it is beneficial to patients because they can recover faster after surgery and some patients bleed less compared to conventional surgery.

While there is support for robot-assisted surgery, scrutiny of the devices has increased after reports of problems, including serious complications and patients' deaths after surgery. Safety advocates claim the robotic-devices are not safe to use for all types of surgeries or on all patients. They are also concerned that many surgeons are not properly trained on how to use the robot for specific surgical procedures since the manufacturing company only trains surgeons on how to use the robot but not on specific surgeries. The FDA is currently investigating the robotic-devices to see if patients face an increased risk for complications or death compared to conventional surgery.

The results of the FDA investigation will not be available for a while, but patients who have had complications after having a robotic-assisted surgery should report them and they may be able to take legal action against the hospital as well as the robot-device manufacturer for any mistakes or complications that occurred during surgery.

Source: ABC News, "FDA Probing Spike in Robotic Surgery Problems," Lindsey Tanner, April 9, 2013

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