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Doctor accused of botching robotic surgeries

Robotic surgeries are an increasingly common way to perform surgeries such as repairing heart valves, transplanting organs, and removing prostates and gallbladders. Some believe the surgeries can lead to less pain and a faster recovery time. But others are questioning the uses and safety of the devices - and in one case, of a doctor who performed surgeries using robots.

The doctor is being investigated by his state medical board for making mistakes in at least 11 serious surgical errors, including some in robotic surgeries. The doctor used the devices for kidney transplants. In one case, an elderly patient was taken off life support after he suffered a torn aorta. Other patients had nerve damage and internal bleeding. In some cases, the doctor switched to manual surgery after injuring patients with the robot.

In addition to the medical investigation, a pending medical malpractice suit accuses the doctor of telling the patients that robotic surgeries are the safest and best option and not offering other surgical options.

The robot is called a da Vinci. It has three or four arms that surgeons operate from a computer station several feet away from the patient. It has been available since 2000, and its use has increased dramatically in recent years. The Food and Drug Administration is now investigating the robotic system after increased reports of accidents, including at least five deaths since January 2012.

The accusations against the doctor and the reports by the FDA raise questions about the circumstances under which robotic surgery is appropriate, what kind of training and skills a surgeon who uses the robots should have, and what procedures are or should be in place in case of an problem. It can be easy to assume that new technology is better, but hospitals and patients need to know all of the risks before they make a decision.

Source: CBS News, "Colorado doctor accused of botching multiple robotic kidney surgeries,"Ryan Jaslow, April 12, 2013

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