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Studies of Da Vinci Robotic System Malfunctions in Surgery


March 21, 2013 — In recent years, as the popularity of the Da Vinci Surgical Robot has grown, so has concern about its safety, training, and the aggressiveness of its marketing. One of the most serious risks is mechanical failure and malfunction during a surgical procedure. Studies indicate that the risk of malfunction is relatively low — estimates range from 0.4% to 2.4% of all procedures. Although patient injuries are rare, a malfunction can complicate the completion of a surgery.

Studies of Da Vinci Surgical Robot malfunctions include a study published in April 2010, by the Journal of Endourology. Researchers conducted a survey of surgeons, and they found that nearly 60% of 176 surgeons who responded reported experiencing mechanical failure of a surgical robot. Most of the surgeons were able to successfully complete the procedure by converting to laparoscopy (“keyhole” surgery) or an open surgery (which uses large incision).

Another study was published in Urology by researches who investigated malfunctions at one hospital in Korea. From July 2005 until December 2008, mechanical failure occurred in 43 out of 1,797 surgeries (2.4%).

In April 2007, the Canadian Journal of Urology published a study of robotic-assisted prostatectomies (surgical removal of the prostate gland). Researchers found that malfunctions occurred in 9 out of 250 (2.6%) procedures. Some surgeons switched to open or laparoscopic techniques to complete the surgery.

Researchers warned:

“Although uncommon, malfunction of the da Vinci robotic system does occur and may lead to psychological, financial, and logistical burdens for patients, physicians, and hospitals.”

The Journal of Endourology published a study by researchers who evaluated 8,000 surgeon reports of malfunction associated with the Da Vinci Surgical Robot, and they concluded:

“Critical malfunctions occurred in 0.4% of the cases. The procedure was cancelled in 70% of these cases, converted to open procedures in 24%, and completed as pure laparoscopic prostatectomy in the remaining 6% of non-recoverable malfunctions.”

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