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.