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144 Deaths and Over 1,000 Injuries in U.S. Linked to Robotic Surgery

These deaths and injuries included events in which broken instruments fell into patients' bodies, electrical sparks caused tissue burns, and system errors made surgery take longer than planned. The report notes that the figures represent a small proportion of the total number of robotic procedures.

"Despite widespread adoption of robotic systems for minimally invasive surgery, a non-negligible number of technical difficulties and complications are still being experienced during procedures," the study states.

The work was carried out by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Chicago's Rush University Medical Center.

Their paper says 144 deaths, 1,391 injuries and 8,061 device malfunctions were recorded out of a total of more than 1.7 million robotic procedures carried out between January 2000 and December 2013.

This was based on reports submitted by hospitals, patients, device manufacturers, and others to the US Food and Drug Administration, and the study notes that the true number could be higher.

Its authors say the number of injuries and deaths per procedure has remained relatively constant since 2007. But due to the fact that the use of robotic systems is increasing "exponentially", they add, this means that the number of accidents is increasing every year.

Although the study links hundreds of injuries and deaths to robotic surgery, in most cases the FDA's logs do not make clear whether the use of the machines was directly responsible.

The report's authors suggest that one way to tackle such problems would be to give surgical teams more troubleshooting training - including the use of computer simulations that feature technical problems - to help them learn how to restart surgery more quickly after interruptions.

Read the full article here.

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