Robotic surgery linked to 144 deaths, 1,000+ injuries
Occurred: July 2015
A study (pdf) by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chicago's Rush University Medical Center on the safety of surgical robots in the US has found them responsible for at least 144 deaths and over 1,000 injuries between January 2000 and December 2013.
Per the BBC, incidents included electrical sparks causing tissue burns and system errors making surgery take longer than planned. Some 1,166 cases of broken/burned parts falling into patients' bodies contributed to 119 injuries and one death.
The report was based on data submitted by hospitals, patients, device manufacturers and others to the US Food and Drug Administration (US FDA). The study notes that the figures represent a small proportion of the total number of robotic procedures, and that the true number could be higher.
The study should be 'treated with caution', according to the UK Royal College of Surgeons. 'The authors note 'little or no information was provided in the adverse incident reports' about the cause of the majority of deaths, meaning they could be related to risks or complications inherent during surgery,' it said.
The researchers did not compare accident rates with similar operations in which robots were not used. Nor was the study peer reviewed.
Purpose: Conduct surgical operations
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Safety
Alemzadeh H., et al (2015). Adverse Events in Robotic Surgery: A Retrospective Study of 14 Years of FDA Data (pdf)
Royal College of Surgeons of England (2015). RCS response to US study on robotic surgery systems
News, commentary, analysis
Published: August 2023