Posted on behalf of Paul Rheingold, Esq.

There is a serious risk of bowel burns, sometimes fatal, in doing robotic surgery if there is an insulation failure. This occurs when there is a wear or a tear, even minute, in the insulation of one of the arms in the robot, allowing energy to leak out.

A study by the Mayo Clinic recently revealed that there was a shockingly high incidence of insulation failure in instruments they were using, much more in the case of robotic surgery than in ordinary laparoscopy. Instruments ready for actual use were tested, both when they were new and when they had been used a number of times (the article indicates that with the daVinci robot 10 uses are permitted). Amazingly, 81% of the robotic arms, after use, had an insulation failure! This is compared with a 19% failure rate for laparoscopy devices.

The study is reported in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2011-- 205:121,e1-5. The authors warn about bowel injuries due to insulation failures occurring outside of the field of the surgeon's observation. These often go undetected for long enough so that there is a high mortality rate.