Published: 16 May 2017
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Your legal rights when a robot assists in surgery

It’s important as personal injury lawyers that we understand the treatment options available to our clients. This helps us understand what clients are going through in terms of their treatment and the risks as these factors come into play when assessing their damages for pain and suffering.

At the recent Australian Lawyers Alliance conference we heard from Professor Richard Bittar neurosurgeon regarding the introduction of robots, which act like a GPS system to guide the surgeon where to place the screws when performing spinal surgery.

The question was posed whether these robots are game changers or expensive new toys as each robot costs around $800,000. However, the benefits to patients are the reduction of radiation exposure and a reduction in the rate of screw misplacement as there is currently a 10 per cent occurrence of screw misplacement. Mr Bittar and a fellow surgeon have conducted 69 consecutive cases using the new robot with 99.3% accuracy.

Other advantages of using this technology are reductions in the:

  • Amount of theatre time required 
  • Length of hospital stays
  • Risk of cancer and cataracts to the surgeon, patient and nursing staff.

What are the risks?

Professor Bittar highlighted that the main danger is that ill equipped surgeons could perform this surgery, as the accreditation course to operate this device takes only three hours. He used the analogy of aeroplanes now having such wonderful technology that theoretically a monkey could fly a plane on autopilot. However, would you like to fly in a plane flown by a monkey? No, because in the event something goes wrong the monkey will not be able to take over with the skill required.

Similarly if the robot fails, the surgeon needs the experience and training to be able to insert the screws the old fashioned way.

How to reduce risks?

While robot technology will improve outcomes for patients undergoing many types of surgery, patients are advised to ensure they attend a reputable surgeon with the requisite skill and expertise.

In the case of personal injury, Australian patients always have the opportunity to seek legal counsel on their rights.

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