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July 10, 2014 — JAMA Surgery has published a study indicating that patients who had prostate surgery were exposed to higher risks when they were treated with the Da Vinci Surgical Robot during its first few years on the market.

Researchers from the University of California, San Diego based their conclusions on data from over 400,000 patients in the Nationwide Inpatient Sample who had a radical prostatectomy between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2009. The Da Vinci Surgical Robot surged in popularity during this time, accounting for 10.4% of all minimally-invasive radical prostatectomies by 2006.

In 2005, researchers found that patient safety risks doubled when the Da Vinci robot was used, compared to patients who had a traditional open radical prostatectomy. In teaching hospitals, the risks were three times higher.

The study suggests a steep learning curve for surgeons as the Da Vinci robot was rapidly introduced into clinical practices in the last decade. The Da Vinci is a complex robot that is designed with four robotic arms that are remotely controlled by a surgeon sitting at a console looking at a 3D high-definition display.

In an accompanying editorial, researchers from Johns Hopkins Department of Urology disagreed with the researchers’ conclusions, but agreed that systems for ensuring patient safety when new surgical procedures are important:

“Current systems for the adoption of novel procedures are not formalized nor are they consistent across practices. Designing a new adoption system that ensures quality of care is a laudable but formidable task.”


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