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Medical malpractice and transoral robotic surgery: Evaluation and some preemptive thoughts

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December 12, 2017
by Daniel D. Lydiatt, DDS, MD, FACS; Ryan Sewell, MD, JD

Abstract

Medical malpractice is costly and disruptive, and it is important to prevent. We conducted a study with the objective to look at medical malpractice in robotic surgery overall, to evaluate reasons for litigation, and to comment on possible strategies to avoid litigation with transoral robotic surgery. We used the Westlaw computerized database to identify all state and federal verdict summaries in medical malpractice cases. We found 17 cases alleging malpractice that involved the use of robotic surgery. In all, the plaintiffs in 6 cases (35%) contended that an open rather than a robotic approach should have been used, 5 (29%) alleged negligent credentialing, 4 (24%) alleged training deficiencies, 2 (12%) alleged manufacturing problems, and 1 (6%) charged that robotic surgery should have been performed instead of open surgery (1 case involved two of these allegations). In 11 cases (65%), plaintiffs charged that robotic surgery contributed to an undesirable outcome, and in 6 cases (35%) they raised concerns about informed consent. In all, only 5 of the 17 lawsuits (29%) resulted in plaintiff verdicts or settlements; damages ranged from $95,000 to $7.5 million. We believe the courts should not play a major role in establishing safety guidelines for the introduction of new technology such as robotic surgery. Instead, training and credentialing guidelines should be established by appropriate national associations and societies to assist hospitals in doing so.

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