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A scary message by Intuitive Surgical Inc., the company that makes the da Vinci surgical robot, has doctors on alert after a potential issue with the machine was uncovered.

Last week the company issued an “urgent medical device notification” to surgeons regarding a problem with scissors that come with the robot. Intuitive Surgical said that the scissors have, in some cases, developed “micro-cracks” that can cause heat from the machine to leak and burn a patient’s tissue. The specific tool in question is called an EndoWrist Monopolar Curved Scissor.

The latest news comes on the heels of increased attention for the company regarding worries about the safety of robotic surgery. Procedures performed by the machines have exploded in recent years as hospitals have sought to increase market share and pad their bottom lines by attracting clients using the allure of robotic surgeons.

Despite all the glowing press surrounding the device, the FDA says it will launch an investigation into a series of more than 500 complaints about the da Vinci surgical robot. These include five reports of death. In once case a woman died during a hysterectomy after the robot clipped a blood vessel. In another case, a man died after the da Vinci robot perforated his colon, which led to a terrible infection.

Critics have complained that the robot is no better than a human surgeon and only further increases the already costly hospitalization process. In some cases, glitches have even been reported in the robot, including terrifying case where the machine froze in the middle of surgery while gripping a patient’s intestine.

Though none of this proves that robotic surgery systems should never be used, the reports do raise serious concerns. We can only hope that the FDA does its job and rigorously investigates the use of the da Vinci system to ensure future patients are safe.


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