Brigham and Women’s Hospital Installing Practice Robot

The hospital is aiming to make robotic-assisted surgery safer.

The da vinci robotic surgery system photo via Facebook.

The da vinci robotic surgery system photo via Facebook.

Robotic-assisted surgeries are increasing in the U.S. but so are the injuries and risks associated with this type of surgery. Massachusetts health officials sent hospitals an “advisory letter” this past spring about rising safety concerns. The letter said that some of the surgeries may have been too complex for the technology, or that the surgeons were not skilled enough to accurately direct the robot’s actions.

In a proactive approach to the problem, Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) is installing a full-size robotic surgery simulation console, identical to the actual units currently used in the hospital’s operating rooms, in a place where surgeons can practice on it 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It’s the only one of its kind in Massachusetts. This way, surgeons can hone their skills and prevent any mistakes in robotic-assisted surgery.

“Safe robotic surgeons must become one with their operative console, so that the patient-side robot truly functions as an extension of their own body,” says Dr. Antonio Rosario Gargiulo, medical director of the Center for Robotic Surgery at BWH. “This state-of-the-art simulator should give our patients confidence that their surgeon is always a technically competent robotic surgeon. Data suggests that complications from robotic surgery are less common beyond the early adoption phase by surgical teams. We have made an ethical choice: we want our surgeons to have every possible opportunity to learn, practice and improve their skills in a simulation laboratory environment, so that they are always ready to give their technical best in real surgery.”

According to USA Today, there were nearly 400,000 robotic-assisted surgeries performed nationwide last year, which is triple what it was just four years earlier. BWH surgeons have successfully performed more than 2,000 robotic-assisted surgeries in the past decade. In fact, some of their veteran surgeons have worked on three generations of FDA-approved robots.

The most common robot-assisted surgeries are ones that require operating in small, hard to reach areas like prostate removals, head and neck cancer surgeries, and rectal surgeries. About 1,400 U.S. hospitals—nearly one out of every four—have at least one robotic system. Each one costs about $1.45 million, plus $100,000 or more a year in service agreements.


  • Benja75

    The other three in four hospitals are the smart ones for not being sold this thing. This machine is designed to generate costs. Equal results in scientific studies at higher crippling costs is a bad idea. I am amazed at the power of idiotic testimonials in a hospital setting. Expected from chiropractors and diet pills, but surgery? Yikes. Surgeons get to play with a pseudo innovation of the 1990s. Good for them. Recent sales and regulator and scientific revelations show this thing is on the way out. Good riddenance to really expensive bad rubbish sold by crooks.

    • Antonio Gargiulo

      It is just too bad that the reader Benja75 completely missed the point of this 2013 Boston Magazine article.
      At BWH we have truly brought computer-assisted surgery (aka: “robotic” surgery) to a new level, by implementing standards of virtual reality simulation for staff and trainees that up to this point have only been required of commercial aviation professionals. Current robots are relatively simple and precise tele-operators that make open surgery unnecessary in the great majority of cases by rendering endoscopic surgery easy to perform. However, these tele-operators are not easy to use, and surgeons that are not facile with the machine may occasionally unintentionally arm patients in the process of learning . The point of this article is to highlight the fact that BWH has (with uncommon vision and substantial monetary investment, I must add) introduced virtual reality simulation as a way to safely learn to use the tele-operator in our simulation center, NOT in the operating room. This is the novelty, and this is the reason why ultimately all surgery will have to become computer assisted, unless patients are at peace with the fact that surgeons continue to learn on them, as they have had to do for the past century of modern medicine. Visit the BWH Center for Robotic Surgery website to get feel for how far this technology has gone.
      Antonio Gargiulo, Medical Director, BWH CRS.

      • Benja75

        Do you restrict robotic procedures to only those procedures that show a measurable benefit over existing techniques? That would be truely innovative. Sounds like the new google platform will be patient outcome driven by design. Get ready to rollover intuitive roboquacks