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Could new medical robots lessen surgical errors?

Surgery using medical robots-"health care's hottest technology"-is gaining momentum lately. Even questions as to whether robots truly end surgical malpractice do not seem to slow down the manufacturers' stock.

New York hospitals are well-known for being among the most medically advanced in the country. So New Yorkers who are considering the robot option in surgery should be aware that U.S. regulators are keeping a close eye on these surgeries in order to verify their safety.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, approximately 500,000 surgeries involving medical robots were performed last year. The surgeries ranged from prostate removal and gynecological procedures to heart surgery, and the adverse affects consisted mostly of burns to vessels and organs and damaged bowels and ureters. However, no robot malfunction was reported; error was attributed to users of the technology.

The FDA also notes that, as the number of surgeries involving robots increases, so do injuries. In 2012, 115 injuries were reported as compared with 24 cases in 2009, and deaths increased from 11 cases to 30. However, these figures are relatively small compared to the error and mortality rates of regular surgeries.

Incidences of surgical malpractices resulting from the usage of medical robots may still be litigated. Medical robots are still controlled by medical practitioners. Consequently, the improper use of medical equipment can be considered negligence and can result in liability.

A victim of surgical malpractice must act promptly in order to get relief. A New York statute requires a victim to file a complaint within two years, or it becomes moot. Also, early intervention can lessen the harm to victims, both physically and financially.

The first step to receiving compensation is for a victim to file a certificate of merit, which is a basic step in malpractice suits. The certificate can help lead to compensation for medical expenses for serious injury, for rehabilitative care for a worsened condition and for lost wages.

Source: The Daily Item, "Intuitive robot probe threatens trend-setting surgeries," Robert Langreth, March 2, 2013

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