#Robot surgeons kill 144 patients, hurt 1,391, malfunction 8,061 times
Surgery on humans using robots has been touted by some as a safer way to get your innards repaired – and now the figures are in for you to judge.
A team of university eggheads have counted up the number of medical cockups in America reported to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from 2000 to 2013, and found there were 144 deaths during robot-assisted surgery, 1,391 injuries, and 8,061 counts of device malfunctions.
If that sounds terrible, consider that 1.7 million robo-operations were carried out between 2007 and 2013. Whether you’re impressed or appalled, the number of errors has the experts mildly concerned, and they want better safety mechanisms.
“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,” concludes the study [PDF], which was conducted by bods from MIT, Rush University Medical Center, and the University of Illinois.
The most dangerous kind of robot surgery is cardiothoracic and head and neck surgeries (6.4 per cent and 19.7 per cent of adverse results respectively), compared to 1.4 per cent and 1.9 per cent for gynecology and urology operations.
“The best that we can tell from the available data is that the higher number of injury, death, and conversion per adverse event in cardiothoracic and head and neck surgeries could be indirectly explained by the higher complexity of the procedures, less frequent use of robotic devices, and less robotic expertise in these fields,” the study found.
“Although the use of robotic technology has rapidly grown in urology and gynecology for prostatectomy and hysterectomy, it has been slow to percolate into more complex areas, such as cardiothoracic and head and neck surgery.”
Sadly the reports on precise causes are incomplete and the vast majority of deaths and injuries are simply listed as “malfunction,” which could mean either the mechanical surgery unit failed or the operator cocked up, coauthor Dr Ramen told El Reg.