Robotic Surgery Injury Reports Lacking, Critics Say

Thu, 01/02/2014 - 9:56am
Robert Langreth

When Sheena Wilson underwent robotic surgery for a hysterectomy in May, she didn't know the Intuitive Surgical system used by her doctor was previously tied to a variety of injuries for the same procedure.

Her rectum was badly burned in the operation, said Wilson, 45, a mother of two from New Jersey. Now, she is on long-term disability, fearful of losing her job and facing a third corrective surgery.

"If I had known there were other people who had injuries, I would never have done this surgery," said Wilson, who has filed suit against Intuitive and her doctor. "Whatever they have in place is not working."

The use of complex medical devices is exploding. Last year, Intuitive's da Vinci robotic surgery system alone helped doctors perform more than 350,000 surgeries in U.S. hospitals. Yet patients like Wilson, whose lives depend on the proper use of increasingly complex high-tech medical equipment, often can't get a complete picture of potential problems.

While a U.S. database lists reports of deaths and injuries sent to the Food and Drug Administration, the agency has no authority to force doctors to contribute. And while hospitals are supposed to report, they often don't, critics say.

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