When your doctor tells you that a surgical procedure is necessary, you want to know all the details before you check in to the New Mexico facility where it will be performed. If one of the recommendations is for robotic surgery, you may want to do a little research first.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a surgical robot may well improve your surgeon’s ability to perform laparoscopic surgery. The surgeon manipulates the robot through a computer program, and lights and cameras produce magnified images that allow a much better view of the area. Not only that, the robot can make much smaller and more precise movements than even an extremely skilled surgeon can be expected to make.

Unfortunately, a review of incidents reported to the FDA between 2000 and 2013 indicates that, depending on your type of surgery, your best odds for a safe procedure may still rest in the hands of a human. There were 10,624 reports of problems logged, and most of these were device malfunctions. These broke down as follows:

  • Burnt or broken pieces of surgical instruments falling into a patient – 14.7 percent
  • Electrical arcing of instruments – 10.5 percent
  • Instruments operating in unintended ways – 8.6 percent
  • System errors – 5 percent
  • Video or imaging issues – 2.6 percent

Not all of these resulted in harm to patients. Of the 10,624 incidents, 1,104 procedures were interrupted, and in most of these, the result was that the surgeon had to take over the procedure from the robot. In over 325 cases, the system needed to be restarted. More than 250 had to be rescheduled. Over the 14-year period, there were 144 reports of patient deaths, and 1,391 injuries. 

This information is provided for educational purposes only; it is not intended as medical or legal advice.