Robots Make Mistakes, Too

Posted by on Apr 16, 2013 in Medical Malpractice, Product Liability, Robotic Surgery | 2 comments

The idea of a robot performing surgery may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but in fact it is already being done. Of course, the robots in these procedures are still being controlled by doctors; the robots are merely sophisticated tools that do pretty much the same thing as a scalpel, retractors, and other traditional pieces of surgical equipment, only they are much more precise.

Recently, however, there has been a rise in claims of unnecessary injury following surgery being lodged against the doctors operating the robots and the manufacturers of the robots themselves. This is a matter of concern for hospitals who have admitted the intriguing but very expensive technology into their operating rooms. Advocates insist that there is nothing wrong with the robots; it is the human factor that has caused the injury due to a lack of training or skill.

Most hospitals acquire robots for surgery from Intuitive Surgical Inc. in California, so in case a defect in a robot causes injury to a patient in the U.S., a product liability claim, rather than a medical malpractice claim, would be needed. But if the surgeon is to blame because he or she lacked the training, knowledge, and expertise to operate the robot surgeon in a competent and effective manner, then that’s another matter. It would also be logical to assume that the hospital would be a co-defendant in a personal injury case.

Those who neither advocate nor oppose robot surgery but are concerned for the safety of patients urge for better disclosure of the risks to patients involved prior to surgery. Surgeon training is also emphasized, which is typically an inadequate 2-day orientation on the operation of the robot. There are some benefits to robotic surgery that are not found in traditional surgical methods, but without proper training, these benefits remain only in the realm of “potential.”

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