The Attack Of The Robots

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(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

(Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

Recent Blog Entries From Dr. Dave Hnida


Written by Dr. Dave Hnida, CBS4 Medical EditorThe FDA says it is looking into reports of an increase in the number of injuries allegedly caused by robots in surgery.

I’m not talking robots in scrubs and wearing a surgical mask — instead “robotic surgery,” where a surgeon sits at a computer away from the table and performs an operation via hand controls that direct the multiple arms of the “robot”.

It’s more popular than ever, with more than 400,000 surgeries performed by “robots” last year. Main use: prostate surgery, but you can also have a robot remove your uterus or gallbaldder, bypass your stomach or even transplant an organ.

The benefits of a robot are many. Most importantly, they are very precise, their “hands” don’t shake, and they don’t get tired during a long procedure.

But they don’t come cheap. A robotic unit can run upwards of a $1.5 million for the hardware, then some hefty annual expenses to keep it running. And if you’ve paid that much, it had better be used. Hence the occasional over-the-top hype about “robotic surgery.”. It’s the latest, and it’s the greatest, so don’t miss out.

Now comes the FDA saying it has gotten reports of robots slapping patients, grabbing sensitive tissue and not letting go, etc. etc.

However, the FDA does not say just how many reports of problems there have been.

Here are my questions: Are the complications more than what’s seen with conventional surgery? Are the numbers really up, or are there just that many more robotic surgeries being done? Plus, how many robots have really smacked an unconscious patient?

Bottom line, if you need surgery, you may be offered robotics. And it may be a good choice for you. It is the wave of the future, and the future is now.

But how do you know if it’s better than conventional surgery? The problem is you don’t. We don’t.

There just isn’t enough hard evidence yet. But as more studies are done, and more statistics collected, we will find out, and I’d be willing to bet that for many procedures it is a safe and more effective choice.

In the meantime, what do you need to know? For starters, there is no hard and fast universal rules when it comes to training — those are often set by the hospitals themselves. And these aren’t just simple video games.

One study suggests that a surgeon perform at least 150 procedures under the supervision of an experienced operator before being allowed to take the controls solo.

So perhaps that’s your question: how many robotic procedures has your surgeon done? How many were done under supervision while training? ( And that training cannot be solely under a manufacturers rep who sold the robot).

Plus, be sure you are confident and comfortable with your surgeon — a rule that is vital for conventional or robotic.

Ask questions, or else you may be the one smacking the robot during surgery.

MORE FROM CBSNews.com: FDA eyes increase in freak accidents during robotic surgeries

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