Robotic Surgery Device to be Developed by Ethicon and Google

Intuitive Surgical’s da Vinci robot has long had a monopoly on robotic surgery in the United States, but Google and Ethicon have announced that there will soon be competition in the field of surgical robots. 

Johnson & Johnson announced on March 27 that it’s Ethicon unit will partner with Google’s Life Sciences division to develop a new robotic-assisted surgical platform.

The companies indicate that the goal is to design a robot capable of performing minimally invasive surgical procedures that will give surgeons greater control, access and accuracy while at the same time minimizing trauma, scarring and recovery time for patients.

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“For more than 60 years, Ethicon has developed products and technologies that have transformed the way surgery is done,” Gary Pruden Worldwide Chairman of Johnson & Johnson’s Global Surgery Group, said in a press release. “This collaboration with Google is another important step in our commitment to advancing surgical care, and together, we aim to put the best science, technology and surgical know-how in the hands of medical teams around the world.”

The announcement comes less than a month after the FDA announced it was holding a workshop on July 27-28, involving experts from the medical device industry, health care and academia, to look at the safety and effectiveness of robotic surgery systems. The workshop seeks to find ways the FDA can best regulate them to protect patient safety in a way that does not stifle innovation.

While robot-assisted surgical procedures have rapidly grown in popularity in recent years, concerns have emerged about the potential risk of robotic surgery complications and whether devices like the da Vinci robot were pushed for uses that provide no benefits over traditional, less expensive surgical procedures.

da Vinci Robot Surgery Safety Issues

The da Vinci robot is a complex device with four arms that are remotely controlled by a surgeon through the use of hand and foot controls while sitting at a console that provides a virtual reality representation of the patient’s internal organs.

Over the past decade, da Vinci robotic surgery has been adopted in a variety of different gynecologic, urologic and other laparoscopic surgical procedures. However, several studies have raised questions about the cost and effectiveness of the surgical system.

The device has also been subject to several recalls, usually involving attachments for the robotic arms, which have been linked to burns, tears, and other patient injuries.

Although the da Vinci robot has been rapidly adopted by hospitals throughoug the U.S., Intuitive Surgical has faced a number of complaints raised over their aggressive marketing efforts, which have resulted in more expensive robotic surgery being performed in many procedures where there is a lack of evidence supporting a sufficient added benefit.

Intuitive Surgical has also faced a number of da Vinci robotic surgery injury lawsuits brought on behalf of patients who suffered complications following procedures, which were allegedly caused problems with the design of the system and instructions provided for surgeons.

According to allegations raised in the complaints, Intuitive Surgical sold the surgical system without ensuring proper training and instructions for surgeons, and without providing adequate warnings for consumers about the risk burns, tears and other robotic surgery problems.


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