Health officials warn of complications with robotic surgeries

There really may be no substitute for a trained surgeon or doctor, even with all of the advancements in the field of robotics. 

In Massachusetts, for instance, health officials sent hospitals an "advisory" letter last week outlining safety concerns regarding robotic surgery, according to the Boston Globe

Certain cases included using robots for operations too complex for their technology, such as hysterectomies and colorectal operations. The Globe reported that the letter--from the Quality and Patient Safety Division, part of the agency licensing Massachusetts doctors--cited that specifically, in one hysterectomy, two surgeons didn't coordinate their movement of the robot's arms, causing serious damage to a patient, including excessive bleeding. In another robotic surgery, an anesthetized woman placed in a head-down angle for four hours during a hysterectomy suffered shoulder injuries.

Earlier this month, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said that robotic surgery for hysterectomies should not be a first or even second choice for women undergoing routine procedures, due, in part, to the learning curve associated with the robotic system. What's more, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration currently is surveying hospitals on complications, outcomes and dangers with Intuitive's da Vinci robot.

Jim Hu, a surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, however, told the Globe that the da Vinci robot has been used in prostate cancer surgery since 2000, and complications were high in its early days, but have since leveled. He said that patient injuries may be a result of surgeons expanding their use of the robot to other surgeries. Surgeons and hospitals, he said, need to be careful not to use robot implementation as an "arms race."

"It's a great tool," Hu told the Globe, "but it's not good if people don't know how to use it."

To learn more:
- read the Boston Globe article

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