Law Office of Robert A. Miller
Serving Oregon Medical Malpractice And Car Accident Clients Statewide

Who's to blame if robotic surgery goes wrong?

Robotics appears to be really coming of age. Swinging mechanical arms moving with amazing precision along automotive assembly lines have been around for more than a few decades. But we now see robotics coming into the surgical theater.

One of the most notable devices on the market is called the da Vinci Surgical System. While the technology is hailed by many as reducing the risk of surgical errors, some question such claims.

Sparking the discussion are media reports about alleged patient complications suffered during robotic surgical procedures. Included in those reports was one in The Journal for Healthcare Quality that noted that the Food and Drug Administration has received thousands of reports of da Vinci-related mishaps that resulted in 174 injuries and 71 deaths.

But what appears to have really gotten the discussion rolling is one recent legal decision in which a court found that the device maker could not be held liable for the complications one patient suffered. What that did was raise questions about whether the issue centers on there being a shortcoming in surgeon credentialing and hospital policies on training.

A group of experts at the University of Michigan apparently thinks the answer to those questions may be yes. They say the clear implication of the court case is that proper training, credentialing and granting of privilege to perform robotic procedures is in the hands of doctors and the facilities at which they work. At the same time, the authors say guidelines in this regard are lacking.

And an organization dedicated to setting standards for applications of healthcare technology agrees. The Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation says healthcare delivery is so technology dependent today that traditional methods of credentialing are inadequate. A doctor with board certification doesn't necessarily mean he or she is skilled with a new tool like the da Vinci system.

In medical malpractice claims, failure to deliver the accepted standard of care is typically an element of the case. That said it seems safe to conclude that a lack of standards increases patient risk.

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