Inexperienced surgeon uses robotic equipment, patient dies

The surgeon got his training for a complex surgical procedure over a weekend in Tijuana.

That’s what I learned during the deposition of a Conroe, Texas general surgeon who had performed gastric imbrication, a bariatric/weight-loss surgery, on my client.

Surgeon turned down training on robotic surgical equipment, patient dies

I recently read in the news that a 69-year-old man died after a Da Vinci robot-assisted in a heart valve operation.

Robot-assisted surgery has been touted as a great solution for many patients because it allows complex surgeries to be done through small key-hole size incisions. They’re thought to be safer and to reduce patient recovery time. As I’ve previously written, evidence is coming out that, at least in some types of surgery, this is not the case.

The surgeon took the patient to the operating room to repair a mitral valve, but accidentally caused damage to another heart structure called the interatrial septum. As a result, the OR team had to rush and convert to an open procedure to try and repair the damage. Unfortunately, the patient’s organ started shutting down and he wasn’t able to recover.

An investigation into the patient’s death uncovered some surprising factors that likely contributed to the tragic outcome:

· The lead cardiac surgeon had refused any formal training on how to use the complex robotic device.

· The hospital leadership allowed the surgeon to use the device, even without training, because robotic experts would be in the operating room (OR).

· No representatives from the manufacturer of the Da Vinci robot were present in the OR.

· A different company sent robot experts to the OR, but they left halfway through the surgery, without telling anyone on the OR staff.

Texas protects hospitals from responsibility for incompetent doctors

In Texas, you’re left to fend for yourself when it comes to selecting a doctor or surgeon. Powerful hospital lobbyists in Austin have helped create laws that:

· Keep secret hospital initial decisions to let a doctor work on its medical staff. This is called the credentialing privilege.

· Keep secret hospital decisions to let a doctor keep working on its medical staff, even after multiple bad patient outcomes or death. This is called the peer review privilege.

· Require plaintiffs to prove gross negligence to hold a hospital responsible for medical staffing issues. Gross negligence requires proof that the hospital had actual knowledge of information that it should’ve acted on, yet the credentialing and peer review privileges keeps that information top-secret.

Specific training and experiences matters

As patients, most people are inclined to trust that the surgeon or doctor they select or to whom they’re referred is competent.

As a Houston, Texas medical malpractice attorney, I recommend that patients ask physicians and surgeons direct questions about their training and experience in the particular treatment or surgery that is proposed. Get direct, rather than vague, answers before giving the go-ahead to proceed. Ask things like:

· How many of these surgeries have you performed?

· How often have your patients encountered complications with this course of treatment?

· Have you ever performed this type of robotic surgery on a live patient before?

· Did you complete training with the manufacturer of the robotic equipment?

I can tell you that my client was shocked to learn that her surgeon had completed his training over a weekend in Tijuana. That surgeon had started doing this new procedure on live patients by himself, without ever assisting a surgeon with real experience.

In my opinion, there’s no substitute for training and experience. Even the cardiac surgeon involved in the patient’s death seems to agree. According to the investigation, the cardiac surgeon that he could have used more “dry-run” training on the sophisticated robotic system before operating on a live patient.

We are here to help

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured because of poor surgical, medical, or hospital care, then the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Painter Law Firm, in Houston, Texas, are here to help. Click here to send us a confidential email via our “Contact Us” form or call us at 281-580-8800.

All consultations are free, and, because we only represent clients on a contingency fee, you will owe us nothing unless we win your case. We handle cases in the Houston area and all over Texas. We are currently working on medical malpractice lawsuits in Houston, The Woodlands, Sugar Land, Conroe, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Bryan/College Station, and Waco.


Robert Painter is a medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits against hospitals, physicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists, and other healthcare providers. A member of the board of directors of the Houston Bar Association, he was honored, in 2018, by H Texas as one of Houston’s top lawyers. Also, in 2018, the Better Business Bureau recognized Painter Law Firm PLLC with its Award of Distinction.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.