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Robotic Surgery: Panacea or Dangerous Technique?

As someone who underwent robotic surgery for prostate cancer, I don’t have complaints about the procedure.  However, recent stories concerning patients who have suffered serious injuries as a result of robotic surgery have caught my attention.  I recently wrote about case of a young woman who suffered extensive bodily injury as a result of robotic surgery.  Now other news reports are revealing the inherent dangers of robotic surgery that doctors and medical device manufacturers are apparently attempting to underplay in an attempt to keep positive views of the surgical technique intact.

Doctor at Colorado Hospital Kept Risks of Robotic Surgery Secret

Take, for example, Dr. Warren Kortz at Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver, who was the first in the Rocky Mountain region to remove gallbladders using robotic surgery.  Dr. Kortz was a vehement advocate of robotic surgery, saying he believed that it “was easier on the patient” and that “it’s Star Wars stuff”.  Unfortunately, what Dr. Kortz and the hospital failed to reveal was that 10 patients Dr. Kortz treated suffered injuries or complications between 2008 and 2011.  Five of those patients had arteries injured or torn, another two had objects left inside of them, and others suffered nerve damage.  One patient died, while another needed cardiopulmonary resuscitation.  The Colorado Medical Board is accusing Dr. Kortz with 14 counts of unprofessional conduct, including not advising patients on alternatives to robotic surgery.

Marketing Strategies Push Robotic Surgery Despite Lack of Safety Evidence

Intuitive Surgical Inc., the manufacturer of the surgical robot used during robotic surgery, has aggressively marketed their product by advertising on hospital and doctor websites, billboards and radio and TV.  The problem is that the company has blatantly ignored some studies that suggest that robotic surgery is no safer than other alternatives, or hyped the advantages of robotic surgery without proof.  In fact, robot surgeries haven’t been proven in randomized trials to provide any significant health benefits compared to less invasive, standard procedures.  Robotic surgeries are also more expensive than other alternatives by thousands of dollars, according to some studies.  Given the contradictory claims of surgical device manufacturers and the lack of evidence to prove the safety of robotic surgical equipment, it’s important that patients have an opportunity to thoroughly understand the risks of undergoing robotic surgery and that also means that doctors provide patients with the necessary information to do so.

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