Liability in robotic gyn surgery

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Surgeon tells patient, “I have done a few” robotic hysterectomies before performing robotic-assisted total laparoscopic hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. What’s the verdict after complications ensue?



The approach to hysterectomy has been debated, with the need for individualization case by case stressed, and the expertise of the operating surgeon considered.

CASE Was surgeon experience a factor in case complications?

VM is a 46-year-old woman (G5 P4014) reporting persistent uterine bleeding that is refractory to medical therapy. The patient has uterine fibroids, 6 weeks in size on examination, with “mild” prolapse noted. Additional medical diagnoses included vulvitis, ovarian cyst in the past, cystic mastopathy, and prior evidence of pelvic adhesion, noted at the time of ovarian cystectomy. Prior surgical records were not obtained by the operating surgeon, although her obstetric history includes 2 prior vaginal deliveries and 2 cesarean deliveries (CDs). The patient had an umbilical herniorraphy a number of years ago. Her medications include hormonal therapy, for presumed menopause, and medication for depression (she reported “doing well” on medication). She reported smoking 1 PPD and had a prior tubal ligation.

VM was previously evaluated for Lynch Syndrome and informed of the potential for increased risks of colon, endometrial, and several other cancers. She did not have cancer as of the time of planned surgery.

The patient underwent robotic-assisted total laparoscopic hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. The operating surgeon did not have a lot of experience with robotic hysterectomies but told the patient preoperatively “I have done a few.” Perioperatively, blood loss was minimal, urine output was recorded as 25 mL, and according to the operative report there were extensive pelvic adhesions and no complications. The “ureters were identified” when the broad ligament was opened at the time of skeletonization of the uterine vessels and documented accordingly. The intraoperative Foley was discontinued at the end of the procedure. The pathology report noted diffuse adenomyosis and uterine fibroids; the uterus weighed 250 g. In addition, a “large hemorrhagic corpus luteum cyst” was noted on the right ovary.

The patient presented for a postoperative visit reporting “leaking” serosanguinous fluid that began 2.5 weeks postoperatively and required her to wear 3 to 4 “Depends” every day. She also reported constipation since beginning her prescribed pain medication. She requested a copy of her medical records and said she was dissatisfied with the care she had received related to the hysterectomy; she was “seeking a second opinion from a urologist.” The urologist suggested evaluation of the “leaking,” and a Foley catheter was placed. When she stood up, however, there was leaking around the catheter, and she reported a “yellowish-green,” foul smelling discharge. She called the urologist’s office, stating, “I think I have a bowel obstruction.” The patient was instructed to proceed to the emergency department at her local hospital. She was released with a diagnosis of constipation. Upon follow-up urologic evaluation, a vulvovaginal fistula was noted. Management was a “simple fistula repair,” and the patient did well subsequently.

The patient brought suit against the hospital and operating gynecologist. In part the hospital records noted, “relatively inexperienced robotic surgeon.” The hospital was taken to task for granting privileges to an individual that had prior privilege “problems.”


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