Making the case to reduce accidents from laparoscopy

May 1, 2006

The risk of accidents with laparoscopic surgery could be reduced ifhospitals used fault-detection devices currently on the market.

The risk of accidents with laparoscopic surgery could be reduced if hospitals used fault-detection devices currently on the market. That's the argument being put forward by a lawsuit by Kristina Fox, who underwent the procedure for a gynecologic condition. During the procedure, stray electricity escaped from the wand's shaft, burning Fox's colon. As a result, she has a malfunctioning bladder and disabling pain despite follow-up treatments-including 13 operations so far. She has a lawsuit pending against the doctor, the hospital, and the device manufacturer. According to The New York Times (3/17/06), fewer than 25% of the nation's hospitals have invested in such safety devices, such as ones that scan wands for insulation cracks before surgery or that have monitoring systems to shut the wands down as soon as a power leak is detected.

Yet major device manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson and U.S. Surgical, don't believe such safety devices are necessary. Because the risks are so minimal, they argue, is it really necessary to commit resources to install safeguard systems or replace the older technology? The answer to that debate may depend on whether more patients like Kristina Fox file lawsuits.