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Complaints against doctor expose darker side of robo-surgeries

Although the concept sounds like something out of the future, high-precision robots are now used during surgeries at many hospitals in Ohio and the rest of the country. While the expensive robotic devices have been praised for being a sophisticated and perhaps even a safer means of performing surgery, growing concerns are beginning to surface.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently said that it is conducting a review into the devices after a rash of surgical errors were reported. Since the reports haven’t been common enough to establish a trend, a spokesperson said “the FDA has elected to talk with surgeons to better understand the factors that may be contributing to the rise in report numbers.”

For those who have already suffered injuries during the robotic surgeries, however, the FDA’s efforts are too little and too late. This is true for several patients of a Colorado doctor who was recently charged with 14 counts of unprofessional conduct for the mishaps he caused while performing surgeries at a Denver hospital with a robotic arm between 2008 and 2010.

The Colorado medical board charges that the doctor was responsible for cutting and tearing blood vessels during surgeries, leaving sponges and other instruments inside patients after surgeries, and causing other injuries to patients. The doctor also faces charges for failing to document the serious surgical mistakes in patient charts.

After a kidney transplant surgery had to be aborted because of a mistake caused by the doctor during a robo-surgery, the patient filed a medical malpractice lawsuit. It appears that the doctor, who is still prominently featured on the hospital’s advertisements for robo-surgeries, could face lawsuits on behalf of many other patients and their families as well.

Although technological advancements in medicine can offer wonderful benefits to patients, any damages that they cause should not be overlooked. Luckily, the FDA is looking into the safety of robotic arms to determine if the technology is unnecessarily putting patients at risk. Medical negligence lawsuits, too, help to keep hospitals and doctors in check.

Source: Denver Post, “Colorado charges doctor in problem-plagued robo-surgeries at Porter,” Michael Booth, April 11, 2013