Technical difficulties, complications plague robotic surgeries

As the adoption of robots to help in minimally invasive surgery grows, so, too, do technical difficulties and complications during such procedures, according to a recent study.

The report, "Adverse Events in Robotic Surgery," analyzes data reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's MAUDE database from January 2000 to December 2013. The researchers--who are from the University of Illinois at Urbana, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Rush University Medical Center--say they found "a nonnegligible number of technical difficulties and complications" during procedures.

A total of 10,624 events related to the robotic systems and instruments were examined for the study; of those, researchers found that 1,535 had adverse events with negative impacts on patients. Complications included injuries in 1,391 cases, deaths in 144 cases and 8,061 device malfunctions.

Rates of injury or death were highest for cardiothoracic and head and neck surgery, according to the report. The researchers indicated that those rates are high because of procedure complexity, infrequent use of robotic devices and less expertise using the tools in those fields.

They added that "some of the reported events could be prevented by employing substantially improved safety practices and controls in the design and operation of surgical systems."

That could include better safety engines for monitoring of procedures; real-time feedback provided to the surgeon on safe surgical paths that can be taken; improved interfaces; and simulators that train surgical teams for handling technical issues.

As healthcare professionals increasingly use computer consoles and robotic tools in care, it is creating a need for a more tech-savvy workforce in the industry.

Complications from robot use in surgery aren't the only concern when it comes to the devices. An engineering team at the University of Washington recently examined security vulnerabilities of a surgical robot, finding that they could send malicious code to the device to cause it to stop working, or change the robot's commands.

To learn more:
- check out the study (.pdf)