Robotic surgery adverse events could spark push to improve training

Physician training for use of surgical robots at hospitals could become more standardized, thanks in part to a rise in reported adverse events associated with such tools, Bloomberg reported. As of Nov. 3, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had received close to 3,700 adverse event reports in 2013 regarding use of robotic surgery systems created by Intuitive Surgical, maker of the da Vinci system; that number, according to Bloomberg, is more than double last year's report total.

What's more, a recent small survey conducted by the FDA of surgeons focusing on use of the da Vinci system found that training efforts were not consistent across institutions. Additionally, respondents said that learning how to use the system was their biggest challenge due to "the device's complex user-interface."

Robert Sweet, a medical training expert at the University of Minnesota, called standardized training on medical devices, as a whole, a "systemic problem." Eric Gordon, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, compared the problem to the airline industry.

"We don't let inadequately trained people fly airplanes and excuse it by saying that added training is available for pilots who request it," Gordon told Bloomberg. Angela Wonson, a spokeswoman for Intuitive, told Bloomberg that training was available "in many forms" for providers who put in a request.

Complications from robotic surgery are widely underreported, according to a study published in August in the Journal for Healthcare Quality by researchers from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. In an announcement from Johns Hopkins Medicine, the researchers pointed out that a "slapdash" system of reporting complications paints an unclear picture of the safety of robotic surgery.

In March, 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.

To learn more:
- read the Bloomberg article
- here are the results of the FDA survey (.pdf)

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