Advances in medical care are astounding. What would once have been deemed only possible in science fiction is slowly seeping into everyday practice. But, it is important not to forget that, regardless of the complexity of the processes, safety must always be paramount. Providing substandard medical care that leads to harmful, preventable injuries is never acceptable.
For example, consider robotic surgeries. Every day more and more patients in Illinois and throughout the country are having operations which are performed in large part by robotic machines. In most cases, doctors control these machines behind the scenes, guiding the robotic arms with all aspects of the procedure. Of course, one obvious advantage is that that format may minimize the chance of human-caused surgical errors. Hands slip, cuts are made too deep or in the wrong spot, and many other mistakes might be made by a surgeon in the middle of an operation. But robotic arms do not get tired and can work with a level of precision that no human could meet.
But that does not mean that robotic surgeries are always without error. In fact, recent reports have raised very real concerns about the current level of safety with these devices.
Surgical Errors – Even with Robots
For example, last month Johns Hopkins Medicine released a report which explained how the reporting process for robotic surgery complications was “haphazard,” leading to a lack of clarity regarding the overall safety of these operations.
According to the report, there have been about a million robotic surgeries performed since 2000. Yet, only 245 complications from those procedures was ever reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Of those, 71 deaths resulted.
But do those reporting numbers tell the whole story?
Law requires all “adverse events’ to be reported. But as almost anyone involved in the process will confess, the reality is far different than the ideal. Quite obviously the researchers noted that “the number reported is very low for any complex technology used over a million times.”
The fact is that many mistakes are simply not reported as required. It did not even take much digging to find examples. That is because many of the mistakes identified in popular news reports were themselves not even reported to the FDA. If errors that make their way into newspapers are not included in FDA databases, then what about the many more instances which are not written about in a newspaper? How many instances are swept under the rug?
This poses a real problem, not just for past accountability but for future safety. As a professor or surgery discussing the report noted, “”Doctors and patients can’t properly evaluate safety when we have a haphazard system of collecting data that is not independent and not transparent. There may be some complications specific to the use of this device, but we can only learn about them if we accurately track outcomes.”
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