Robot Doctors in the Operating Room

Hospitals are using robotics to improve on human performance, but complications are on the rise.
2:06 | 04/12/13

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Transcript for Robot Doctors in the Operating Room
And now, there is a brand new word of caution about safety and surgery tonight. More and more hospitaling are using robots, saying they improve on human precision and performance. So, why is an investigation now under way? Here's abc's ron claiborne. Reporter: Bo surgery has been hailed as a major medical breakthrough, with claims that highly-precise robots that were staidier than the human hand. Here, the robot's tiny forceps peels the skin off a grape. And more important, better outcomes for patients. Denver's dr. Warren kortz has performed hundreds of operations using robots. The tip of that instrument only moves one millimeter. Reporter: This week, the colorado medical board cited him for complications during 11 robotic surgeries. In one instance, the aorta of a kidney patient was torn. He and his lawyer declined comment. The fda announced it is looking into the increasing number of serious medical problems, even deaths, involving robo-surgery. Among 500 reporter incidents, a robotic malfunction during a hysterectomy. The doctor could not control movement of the foraccept. And death, after a patient's bowel was ripped. Some of the cases suggest errors by the doctors controlling the robotic device. There have been rare cases where, during an operation, when there needs to be emergency cpr or an emergency conversion to an open operation, where the robot has gotten in the way. Reporter: The number of robotic operations has exploded, 25,000 in 2005. 450,000 last year. But some critics, doctors among them, say studies have failed to show that robotic surgery is any better than conventional surgery. The vast majority of these studies have found there's no benefit to patients for most applications and is probably only a small set of procedures where there is a benefit. Reporter: In a written statement, the maker of the only fda-approved robotic device says it has an excellent safety record, total adverse event rates have remained low. But questions are surfacing, and now the fda is looking for answers. Ron claiborne, abc news, new york.

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