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Study links nerve injury to robo-assisted surgery

Many doctors agree that there are benefits to robotic surgery, which is a relatively new type of surgery for treating patients with bladder, prostate, adrenal gland and kidney problems. But there are risks, too, and patients have been badly injured by the robo-assisted procedure itself.

Bozeman residents with surgical error concerns will be interested in a new study indicating a one-in-fifteen chance that people who undergo robotic surgery will suffer nerve injuries as a result. In particular, the study focused on da Vinci robots, which are made by the industry leader, Intuitive Surgical.

Most of the nerve injuries didn't last more than a month, but five of the 22 injured patients in the study experienced injuries lasting more than six months. The study looked at 334 robotic urology surgeries in 2010 and 2011.

When a person goes through one of these robotic procedures, the patient is placed in a steeply tilted position. The person's head is near the floor and his or her feet are up in the air. The risk, then, is that the patient will slide down. This sliding can pull on the patient's nerves and muscles, causing damage. The likelihood of injury was greater in longer surgeries.

The lead author of the study, which was published in The Journal of Urology, said that the findings didn't suggest to her that doctors should stop performing robotic surgeries. Rather, she said, the benefits of these surgeries outweighed the risk of nerve injury.

Still, the fact is that some patients are bound to be injured in one of these procedures, and there should be clear communication between doctors and patients regarding the risks. Montana patients who have suffered a surgical injury of any kind would do well to apprise themselves of their rights to seek compensation.

Source: Reuters, "Robotic surgery tied to temporary nerve injuries," Genevra Pittman, March 29, 2013

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