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Ten deaths attributed to robotic surgery

Originally posted by Kevin B. Mamula with the Pittsburgh Business Times

Ten Pennsylvanians died from complications resulting from robotic surgery, an increasingly popular tool used in minimally invasive operations, a new study found.

Doctors reported 722 “safety events” between 2005 and March 31 involving use of robotic surgery in a variety of procedures, the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority found. Unintended laceration, bleeding and infection were among 75 percent of the problems that were reported, according to the Harrisburg-based nonprofit that seeks to identify and correct problems in medical care.

Use of robotic surgery nationwide has been growing since the machines were introduced in 2000, with a near tripling of operations performed between 2007 and 2010 to 205,000 procedures, according to the study. UPMC has seven surgical robots at its hospitals and Highmark Inc. bought four surgical robots last year.

The first robotic-assisted operation at Highmark’s Jefferson Hospital was done in May 2013. The devices are used in gall bladder, gynecologic, gastric bypass and other kinds of operations.

Heritage Valley Health System, Excela Health and Washington Health System also have the units, which cost about $1.8 million depending on features, plus $175,000 in annual maintenance costs. Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Intuitive Surgical Inc. makes the robots.

The complication rate could be higher than reported since the study notes that the data are “limited and can be conflicting.”