Surgical robots recalled for faulty instrument arms

An advanced new surgical robot known as the da Vinci system is being investigated by the Food and Drug Administration after the company that produces it issued an "urgent medical recall." Intuitive Surgical Inc., the manufacturer of the device, claims that friction in the surgical arms can cause the robot to balk or stall at key moments in surgery.

More than a million surgeries and medical procedures were carried out since the year 2000 with the assistance of surgical robots such as the da Vinci system. However, there has been a recent uptrend in the number of difficulties and negative outcomes associated with these robots. There were more than twice as many adverse event reports logged with the FDA by Nov. 3 as there were in the entire calendar year before. This is a very low number of medical errors compared to the number of procedures that have been carried out using these robots, but it is troubling nonetheless.

Although Intuitive Surgical has classified their service event as a recall, the existing da Vinci systems have not been taken out of commission. They are still in use in hospitals in New Jersey and around the country, and practitioners report no difficulties with the robots. They have simply scheduled inspections of the robots and moved to replace the 1,386 instrument arms that have already been purchased. Intuitive claims to have already completed 70 percent of the inspections and repairs.

Surgical robots represent the cutting edge of modern medical technology. Despite their name, they cannot possibly perform procedures on their own. Doctors control the instrument arms as they stand in the operating room next to the patient, and there are attending nurses and physicians there at all times. However, if a patient is harmed or allowed to come to harm through the faulty operation of sensitive equipment, an experienced product liability attorney may be able to help them consider options for compensation.

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