Responding to a recently completed inquest into the death of a 69-year-old man undergoing a procedure to repair his mitral valve, a leading U.K. heart surgeon warns that rapid adoption of robot-assisted surgical systems are putting patients in danger.
According to The Telegraph, Stephen Westaby says his colleagues are incorporating the technology into an especially delicate procedure too readily.
“Every time you stop a heart and try to restart it it does risk that patient’s life,” says Westaby. “And the smallest of mistakes can cascade into disaster.”
Author of the acclaimed memoir Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table, Westaby is hardly a staid and reticent practitioner. Westaby has long been known for employing cutting edge technologies and sidestepping guidelines in the name of saving patients.
Westaby maintains that more direct training is needed for the doctors who plan to use the robotic-assisted surgery systems in heart procedures.
“If you are going to introduce a new and allegedly innovative way of doing a heart operation, you need to be well practiced and understand that you must do it as safely as a conventional operation,” he said in a radio interview, according to The National.
Westaby’s concerns are mainly directed at his countrymen. He allows that U.S. surgeons are more seasoned and therefore more skilled with robotic systems.
“If I was in the United States i might opt for it, but I would not do so in this country,” says Westaby.
The surgeon’s comments come as the U.K. healthcare community is weighing the conclusions of coroner Karen Dilks in a case involving heart surgery patient Stephen Pettitt. The 69-year-old died following a surgery to address mitral valve disease. It was the nation’s first such procedure using a robot-assisted surgical system.
“Mr Pettitt died due to complications of an operation to treat mitral valve disease and, in part, because the operation was undertaken with robotic assistance,” the coroner determined, noting the surgeon had limited training on the device.
Main image credit: Associated Press