Smart Woman: Robotic Surgeon Causes Concern Amongst Health Officials

    Robots help doctors perform hundreds of thousands of operations every year in the U.S. It's one of the fastest growing technologies in health care, but injuries and deaths from robotic surgeries are on the rise and federal health officials are taking a closer look.

    The da Vinci robot is popular in operating rooms across the United States. Surgeons use it for many procedures including prostate removal, repairing heart valves and transplanting organs. "The more we use it the more we realize there are applications throughout the entire body," says Chief Surgeon Dr. Michael Stifelman.

    Now the Food and Drug Administration is investigating a jump in reported problems with the da Vinci, including five deaths that be linked to it. Nearly 1 out of 4 hospitals in the U.S. now have at least one da Vinci robot. Each one costs about 1.5 million dollars.

    Da Vinci's makers, Intuitive Surgical, stand by their robot and say the spike reflects a change in how problems are reported, but Surgeon Marty Makery believes the issues are under-reported and there's no real proof the technology is superior to human hands.

    "With robotic surgery, you lose the ability to feel the tissue, you can't tell the strength and you can actually cut something without ever feeling it in your hands," says Dr. Makery.

    Surgeon Michael Stifelman uses the da Vinci at NYU's Langone Medical Center. He says he loves that the robot allows him to maneuver in tight spaces. "I'm allowed to do surgeries that at one point were thought to be too complicated to do laparascopically and had to be done open," says Dr. Stifelman. His hospital expects to perform more than 1,200 robotic surgeries this year, compared to 175 in 2008.

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