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New worries about robotic surgery - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

New worries about robotic surgery

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NEW YORK -

The da Vinci robot is popular in operating rooms across the U.S. Surgeons use it for many procedures, including prostate removal, repairing heart valves and transplanting organs.

"The more we use it the more we realize there are applications throughout the entire body," said Dr. Michael Stifelman, chief surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Now the Food and Drug Administration is investigating a jump in reported problems with the da Vinci, including five deaths that may be linked to it.

Nearly 1 out of 4 hospitals in the U.S. now have at least one da Vinci robot. Each one costs about $1.5 million.

Da Vinci's makers, Intuitive Surgical, stand by their robot and say the spike reflects a change in how problems are reported. But Dr. Marty Makery, a surgeon at Johns Hopkins, believes the issues are underreported and there's no real proof the technology is superior to human hands.

"With robotic surgery, you lose the ability to feel the tissue. You can't tell the strength and you can actually cut something without ever feeling it in your hands," Makery said.

Stifelman uses the da Vinci at NYU's Langone Medical Center. He says he loves that the robot allows him to maneuver in tight spaces.

"I'm allowed to do surgeries that at one point were thought to be too complicated to do laproscopically and had to be done open," he said.

His hospital expects to perform more than 1,200 robotic surgeries this year, compared to 175 in 2008.

The company says the da Vinci has an excellent safety record with over 1.5 million surgeries performed around the world, with a low rate of problems.

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