Health & medicine Science & tech

Making robotic surgery safe

An inquest into the death of a patient who underwent a robot-assisted heart operation in the UK concluded that the patient’s death was directly caused by the operation and the robotic assistance, and noted a lack of benchmarks for training on new technologies. Robotic systems are already revolutionising surgery in many ways, but what training and support needs to be in place to make sure it’s safe? Abi Millar finds out. 

In 2015, Stephen Pettitt, a retired music teacher, underwent a pioneering operation – the UK’s first robot-assisted heart valve surgery. While Da Vinci robots have been operating in the UK since 2001, this was the first time the system had been used for a mitral valve repair.

Unfortunately – as an inquest was later to find out – the procedure went badly wrong. Pettitt died a few days after the surgery as a result of multiple organ failure. According to an expert at the inquest, he would have had a 99% chance of survival had the operation been performed conventionally.

“Mr Pettitt died due to complications of an operation to treat mitral valve disease and, in part, because the operation was undertaken with robotic assistance,” said the coroner, Karen Dilks, as the inquest concluded in November 2018.

The case involved a catalogue of errors, not least poor communication between the surgeons, and clinicians leaving the theatre halfway through. Most gallingly, the lead surgeon (who was later dismissed) had turned down opportunities to train on the Da Vinci machine.

Read the rest of the article at Medical Technology

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