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Incidents Raise Questions About Robotic Surgery

Fri, 05/07/2010 - 5:21am

Complications with some recent operations performed at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Vermont have raised concerns about the amount of training surgeons should undergo before using a da Vinci system on live patients. These incidents, which have included lacerated bladders and severed ureters, have many wondering if the marketing advantages for a hospital are being given greater priority over patient safety.

As a regional hospital, Wentworth-Douglass has used the da Vinci about 300 times in four years. Some surgeons say that’s far too infrequent for the doctors at the hospital to master it. One study published in the Journal of Urology found that a hospital needs to do at least 520 surgeries a year with the robot to justify its costs.

Last year Intuitive Surgical, the manufacturers of the da Vinci system, reported profits of $233 million on sales of $1.05 billion. Its stock price has more than doubled over the past year to $361 a share, giving the company a market value of $14 billion. The da Vinci is currently in place at 853 hospitals across the U.S.

Wentworth-Douglass began leasing its unit in 2006. The 178-bed non-profit facility competes for patients with six other hospitals located within a 30-mile radius in eastern New Hampshire and southern Maine. None of those hospitals had the robot, so Wentworth-Douglass saw an opportunity to gain a technological edge.

Some of the hospital's surgeons opposed getting the robot because they felt Wentworth-Douglass didn't perform enough surgeries to overcome the machine's learning curve, as some experts say it takes at least 200 surgeries to become proficient at the da Vinci and reduce the risks of surgical complications.

This is a shortened version of an article that can be found here.

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