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Da Vinci medical robot occasionally misses the mark

The da Vinci surgical system has a mixed track record. The minimally invasive, robotic surgery has allowed some to return to physically demanding jobs less than two months after the procedure. However, it was also involved in a medical malpractice incident for a man who suffered complications during his da Vinci system surgery for prostate removal.

The mistake occurred because the surgeon couldn't find the right lateral margin of the prostate. This error may have been due to the surgeon's inexperience or inability, a malfunction or difficulty with the machine's endoscopic cameras, or a combination of both. Regardless, the surgeon changed the surgery mid-way through the procedure, and the patient woke up eight hours later with his entire upper body numb.

The patient filed a medical malpractice claim against the hospital because the botched surgery caused permanent nerve damage. However, he couldn't find an attorney, so he eventually dropped the lawsuit. 

The system is commonly used to perform minimally invasive gynecological and prostate surgeries. It consists of a machine with several arms containing tools like a scalpel, scissors and cautery instruments and is controlled remotely by surgeons. This provides a way for them to watch the procedure while performing it, potentially minimizing risk.

As more and more surgeries are performed remotely with robot assistance, both medical standards and the law will have to catch up with technology. The department director of the UCLA Medical Center criticized training standards for operating the machine, noting that the learning curve is far steeper than many hospitals think. He suggested that if training standards were more rigorous, fewer injuries would occur.

If a surgical error causes lasting problems for a New Jersey patient, he or she can sue for medical malpractice to receive compensation. A good personal injury lawyer can win a settlement, which will help pay for medical bills, lost wages and other costs associated with doctor or hospital negligence.

Source: Monterey Herald, "Da vinci has changed patients' lives - for better and for worse," Virginia Hennessey, March 2, 2013

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