Robotic surgery is a new technique that allows doctors to perform complicated surgeries such as gall-bladder removals, hysterectomies, heart-valve replacements and prostate-cancer operations while making smaller and fewer incisions. The doctor, seated at a video-game-style console looking at a high-definition display, remotely controls the mechanical robot arms that perform the surgery. A 3-D camera allows the doctor to see inside the patient in order to guide the work.

Hospitals that offer robotic surgery say it provides numerous benefits, including a shorter recovery period, less risk of infection, and less scarring. It’s also supposed to give the surgeon a better ability to see inside the patient and perform the procedure with more precision.

Intuitive Surgical Inc., the company that makes and sells the robots, has launched an aggressive marketing campaign to convince hospitals to buy the robots at a price tag of about $1.5 million each. It’s also helping hospitals to market robotic surgery to patients. And the marketing has been very successful, with the number of robot-assisted operations jumping by 60 percent in the last three years.

However, robotic surgery may also have a downside, which has led the Food and Drug Administration to take a hard look at the procedure and its marketing.

For example, a hospital in Denver launched a substantial media campaign when it opened a robotic surgery center several years ago, and since then one doctor has performed several hundred operations with the robot, which boosted the hospital’s profits. But at least 10 patients have complained of severe injuries or complications over a three-year period, including punctured or torn arteries, nerve damage, and objects being left inside the patients, one of whom died. Now the doctor faces possible discipline by the state medical board for unprofessional conduct, including failure to advise patients on alternatives to the robot.

Nationally, reports of injuries linked to robot surgery have skyrocketed over the past year. And a recent study by Bloomberg Business News suggests that thousands of injuries are going unreported. Plus, some physician groups are claiming that the marketing kit that Intuitive Surgical gives to hospitals can mislead patients and leave them unable to make an informed decision.

In response, the FDA has stepped up efforts to survey surgeons about their experiences, while issuing a warning letter to Intuitive Surgical about its marketing.

So far, the FDA hasn’t drawn any conclusions about the general safety of robot surgery at this point. But if you’re a candidate, it’s very important to make sure your doctor advises you of the pros and cons of both robotic surgery and standard surgery so you can make a fully informed decision.

If you have a concern about care you have received, call us today at 864.233.7200 or 1.800.903.8101.