Last week, the FDA issued a warning against the use of robotic surgery for mastectomy and other cancer-related procedures.  The warning stated, in relevant part, “To date, the FDA has not granted marketing authorization for any robotically-assisted surgical device for use in the United States for the prevention or treatment of cancer, including breast cancer.” The warning went on to say, “Be aware that the safety and effectiveness of using robotically-assisted surgical devices in mastectomy procedures or in the prevention or treatment of cancer has not been established.”  This action came after the Agency reviewed certain literature suggesting that robotically assisted devices were being used “off-label” in cancer treatment.  Incidents like this raise a very important question: How can a company avoid or minimize liability in the event of off-label use?
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Recently, James Ryan Morales from HealthAim reported on a new study at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington involving the Smart-Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) Project. In the study, a supervised autonomous robot performed soft-tissue surgery on a pig’s bowel, demonstrating that robots can now perform surgical operations with very minimal human supervision. It is, therefore, only a matter of time before fully autonomous surgical robots make their way into operating rooms across the country. And so, this begs the question: Will patients still be able to sue their human physicians for injuries allegedly sustained while under an autonomous surgical robot’s scalpel?
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