Doctor Testifies He Had Only One Day of Da Vinci Robot Training

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By: Irvin Jackson | Published: May 7th, 2013

In an ongoing trial involving a robotic surgery wrongful death lawsuit against Intuitive Surgical, a urologist has testified that the makers of the da Vinci Surgical System indicated that he was qualified to perform complicated robot-assisted surgery after just one day of training.

The testimony came last week in a case brought by the family of Fred Taylor, who died following multiple complications after da Vinci robotic surgery.

The lawsuit alleges that Intuitive Surgical, the manufacturer of the surgery robot used during the procedure, failed to provide adequate training for surgeons and aggressively and irresponsibly promoted their product without adequate warnings about the risk of complications following da Vinci surgery.

Scott Bildsten told a Washington state court jury that while he had performed 100 prostatectomies through traditional procedures, he had never performed unassisted robotic surgery before he operated on Fred Taylor. Intuitive Surgical provided him just one day of training with the complex machine and two assisted surgeries before he was told he could begin operating independently on patients.

Trial of the da Vinci wrongful death lawsuit began last month. Following the 2008 robotic surgery procedure, Taylor suffered kidney damage, lung damage, incontinence, sepsis, a stroke, and heart attacks. The manufacturer has attempted to argue that there is no proof linking Taylor’s health problems to the use of the da Vinci robot and has pointed out that he was obese and in poor health before the surgery.

The da Vinci Surgical System is a complex surgery robot that is controlled by a surgeon looking at a virtual reality representation of the patient’s internal organs and manipulating its four metal arms with hand and foot controls. However, the da Vinci robot has a high “learning curve” required to obtain basic competency in robotic surgery, according to the complaint filed by Taylor’s family.

The complaint brought by the Taylor family is one of a growing number of da Vinci product liability lawsuits filed against Intuitive Surgical by individuals throughout the United States. However, it is the first case to reach a jury.

One of the most common allegations raised regarding the da Vinci Surgical System is the minimal training provided to physicians and claims that Intuitive Surgical has aggressively marketed the machine without providing adequate warnings about the risk of complications.

The da Vinci robot costs between $1 million and $2.25 million for a hospital to purchase, depending on the model. It then costs another $140,000 a year in maintenance and between $1,500 and $2,000 for replacement parts after every robotic surgery.

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