A common plot in science fiction movies is that of a robot helper which becomes so efficient and self-aware that it decides the human race is the scourge of the planet and needs to be eliminated to make the world better. While the da Vinci surgical robot is not equipped with artificial intelligence, it may be tempting to think that some bug in their programming is causing them to cause surgical injuries.
It is true that design defects or mechanical failures sometimes come into play during routine procedures which can have serious consequences for the patient, but it would be a stretch to call it intentional. The more probable albeit mundane reason for the rising number of adverse events reported with the da Vinci robot is that it has not been thoroughly tested or the surgeon was not adequately trained, or a combination of both.
Surgery always carries some risk, even routine ones, but with minimally invasive methods such as robot-assisted surgery and laparoscopy, this is significantly reduced. However, there are some common da Vinci robot surgical injuries that may be considered preventable. These include but not limited to:
- Perforation of the colon, uterus, and intestines
- Cut or torn blood vessels
- Tissue burns and damage, including the heart
- Retained surgical instruments
Adverse events reported for the da Vinci surgical are quite small percentage wise; it is not even 1% (282 reported out of 367,000) in 2012. But for those who are the unfortunate few to fall victim to a defective unit or inadequately trained surgeon, the consequences can be quite serious. This includes additional surgeries, long-term hospitalization, extensive pain and suffering, as well as financial loss. Because the da Vinci system manufacturer Intuitive Surgical Inc. was negligent in ensuring the integrity of the machines they sell and the competence of the surgeons they train in operating the system, affected patients are looking to them for compensation for health and financial damages.