Da Vinci Surgical Robot Deployment Continues to Climb

As Intuitive Surgical Inc. continues to aggressively market its da Vinci surgical robot, its popularity is growing, but so are incidents of injuries allegedly caused by the device and surgeons operating it.

CNBC recently reported on many if the issues associated with the device, and CNBC Investigations Inc. conducted intensive research, which included interviews with surgeons, ex-employees, patients, lawyers, internal documents, studies, and current lawsuits, that resulted in the following findings:

1.     According to their research, “…da Vinci hospital robot placements and procedures have skyrocketed.  Last year alone, installations rose by 21 percent to 2,585 units worldwide at a cost of more than $1.5 million each.  And robotic surgical procedures leaped by 25 percent to 450,000.”

2.     With the huge increase in da Vinci sales, an associated increase in injury and death-related lawsuits has occurred.

3.     Surgeon training on the robot is minimal.

CNBC conducted interviews with previous Intuitive salespeople and reviewed internal documents.  “One common theme is an effort to prod surgeons to ‘convert’ previously scheduled non-robotic surgeries to meet quarterly sales quotas.  One former regional sales director stated, ‘We would go to hospitals in a local geography and get docs to pledge they would take business away to other hospitals if their hospital didn’t get the robot.’”i

During their research and interview process, CNBC found that many of the complications and injuries associated with the da Vinci robot are under-reported due to the fact that “…injuries can occur beyond the surgeon’s range of vision and without the surgeon’s knowledge and may only show days after the surgery…resulting in an under-reporting of ‘adverse events’ related to the machine.”i

Many of these “adverse events” have occurred because of improper surgeon training.  As previously reported, and also included in CNBC’s report, training typically involves limited classroom teaching, practice on a pig, and a certain number of supervised surgeries on patients based on each individual hospital’s criteria.

Dr. Scott Bildsten, a surgeon in Washington, performed a robotic prostatectomy on a 67-year-old patient named Fred Taylor in September 2008.  Dr. Bildsten’s training on the da Vinci robot included one day of classroom training conducted by Intuitive and two supervised robotic surgeries[ii].  Fred Taylor was his third robot-assisted surgery, which was unsupervised.  Unfortunately, due to complications during the surgery allegedly due to inadequate training, Fred Taylor subsequently died.  Dr. Bildsten later stated: “I was under the initial impression you would get a level of comfort within a certain number of cases.  And as…it went along, it seemed it was going to be much longer than that. …And after speaking with some other urologists in a similar situation, who attempted to use the…da Vinci robot prostatectomy, a lot of others have decided not to proceed as well.  They found the learning curve so steep and lengthy that the level of comfort just took too long and decided to quit.  I was one of those.”i

In addition to improper surgeon training, CNBC reported that da Vinci’s use of “monopolar” energy, used for cauterizing and cutting, has contributed to robot-related injuries.  Regarding monopolar energy, Dr. Scott Steel, MD, Chief of Colon and Rectal Surgery at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, WA, says that “If you can minimize the amount of heat that is generated, you have less collateral damage [and] less damage to surrounding structures.”[iii]  This relates to the da Vinci robot and its failure to insulate the heat energy properly, resulting in, “…’stray currents’ or arching—when sparks from an instrument leap elsewhere.”i

The research and report by CNBC reaffirmed many of the issues that have been previously reported regarding improper surgeon training on the da Vinci robot, da Vinci robot malfunctions, and Intuitive’s marketing schemes.  Patients considering robotic surgery should carefully consider their options and contemplate obtaining a second opinion to determine the best course of action for their health needs.

If you, or one close to you, has suffered injuries as a result of a surgical procedure using the da Vinci Surgical Robot, you are urged to contact Audet and Partners, LLP at (800) 965-1461, or by submitting our confidential online inquiry form to the right of this page.

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