March 20, 2013 — Recently, increasing numbers of robotic-assisted surgeries are being performed in hospitals throughout the United States.
Although rare, the Da Vinci Robotic Surgical System can potentially malfunction. This can cause patient injury or complicate surgical procedures. However, in most cases, surgeons are able to complete the procedure non-robotically without harming the patient.
In April 2010, the Journal of Endourology published a study of Da Vinci malfunctions during robot-assisted prostatectomy (removal of the prostate gland). They found a startling 56.8% of 176 surgeons who responded to the survey reported “irrecoverable” malfunctions before or during operations. When the robot malfunctioned during the procedure, most of the surgeons converted to standard laparoscopy (minimally-invasive “keyhole” surgery) or a standard open surgery (which uses large abdominal incisions).
In December 2009, a study published in Urology found that robotic surgery mechanical failure occurred in 43 out of 1,797 surgeries (2.4%) at one hospital from July 2005 until December 2008.
In April 2007, a study published in the Canadian Journal of Urology found that malfunctions occurred in 9 out of 350 (2.6%) of robotic-assisted prostatectomies. In some cases, the surgeon had to switch to laparoscopic or open surgical techniques. Researchers concluded:
“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.”
A study published in September 2008 in the Journal of Endourology, researchers assessed more than 8,000 reports from surgeons who experienced malfunctions of the Da Vinci Robotic System. Researchers warned:
“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.”