"At first you would get scared. Everybody says, 'A robot?' But in the long run that robot does a lot of miracles," said Diaz, 36.
She has had no complications since her operation last July, has lost 100 pounds and says her new kidney is working well.
Lawsuits in cases that didn't turn out so well often cite inadequate surgeon training with the robot. These include a malpractice case that ended last year with a $7.5 million jury award for the family of Juan Fernandez, a Chicago man who died in 2007 after robotic spleen surgery. The lawsuit claimed Fernandez's surgeons accidentally punctured part of his intestines, leading to a fatal infection.
The surgeons argued that Fernandez had a health condition that caused the intestinal damage, but it was the first robot operation for one of the doctors and using the device was overkill for an ordinarily straightforward surgery, said Fernandez's attorney, Ted McNabola.
McNabola said an expert witness told him it was like "using an 18-wheeler to go the market to get a quart of milk."
Company spokesman Geoff Curtis said Intuitive Surgical has physician-educators and other trainers who teach surgeons how to use the robot. But they don't train them how to do specific procedures robotically, he said, and it's up to hospitals and surgeons to decide "if and when a surgeon is ready to perform robotic cases."
A 2010 New England Journal of Medicine essay by a doctor and a health policy analyst said surgeons must do at least 150 procedures to become adept at using the robotic system. But there is no expert consensus on how much training is needed.
New Jersey banker Alexis Grattan did a lot of online research before her gallbladder was removed last month at Hackensack University Medical Center. She said the surgeon's many years of experience with robotic operations was an important factor. She also had heard that the surgeon was among the first to do the robotic operation with just one small incision in the belly button, instead of four cuts in conventional keyhole surgery.
"I'm 33, and for the rest of my life I'm going to be looking at those scars," she said.
The operation went smoothly. Grattan was back at work a week later.
Robotic surgery: http://tinyurl.com/byuljds
AP Medical Writer Lindsey Tanner can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/LindseyTanner
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