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During the eight-hour operation, his body had been suspended in a steep head-down position to accommodate the positioning of the robot used to assist the surgeon.
Elliott suffered nerve damage and never regained full use of his left hand.
A computer screen magnifies everything in 3-D, greatly improving the surgeon's field of vision; the robot's "hands" can reach into tighter spots and move in ways that human hands cannot; and the machine's software corrects for a surgeon's hand tremors.
The robot may also reduce physician fatigue because surgeons work the robot's controls while sitting at a console instead of standing over the patient for hours.
Elliott is one of more than a million people in the U. who have undergone robotic surgery since it was introduced in the 1990s. While robotic surgery dates to 1992, when a 64-year-old man had his hip successfully replaced with the assistance of a machine called Robodoc, it wasn't until the U. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared the da Vinci robotic system in 2000 for a large swath of minimally invasive procedures that the concept took off.
Over the past decade, some 2,000 surgical robots have been sold in the U.
But some experts say prospective robotic-surgery patients are rarely told about the risks specific to this high-tech approach.
According to a recent Journal of the American Medical Association study of more than 250,000 procedures, hysterectomies performed with the da Vinci robot had no better outcomes than those done through laparoscopic surgeries.
"All of the studies so far show it's no better or worse, but it takes longer and is more expensive," says James T. D., immediate past president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Reviews of studies on other operations, including gallbladder removal, colorectal surgery and procedures to reverse reflux, have reached similar conclusions.
The FDA originally cleared the use of surgical robots for general laparoscopic surgery — minimally invasive procedures done through small incisions — which reduces the risk of infection and speeds recovery. While robotic surgery is considered generally safe, the FDA is reviewing the data after a growing number of reports of related complications.