AI Doctor: When Robotic Surgeons Short Circuit

Robotic Surgeons

Many technological advancements in medicine have led to the development of robotic surgeons and other robotics, but they can and do fail like other equipment. Recently, developments such as medical robots, AI-driven therapy apps for mental health, assistive devices, and automated medication ordering systems have all contributed to more efficient and safer procedures and processes. However, determining liability can be challenging when any of these devices fail.

Potential Problems with Innovative Medical Technology

There are certain issues that can arise from the use of medical technology such as robotics and applications, each of which can present certain challenges for determining whether medical professionals are liable.

For example, some surgeons use robotically assisted surgical devices (RASDs) to help control cutting devices in lieu of scalpels. It’s easier to determine when the doctor is at fault in cases where a professional’s hand slips while holding a manual cutting device, which could cause serious injury. When using a RASD, however, the device may feature an alarm system that alerts doctors when they get too close to a tendon, but this sensor could fail and lead to an injury. In this situation, depending on the circumstances, either the vendor of the RASD or the doctor may be at fault.

Certain therapy apps face other issues. In these cases, a therapist may advise a patient to use an app to help manage their daily life, which could entail keeping track of how they’re feeling, monitoring cravings, or seeking mental health resources, among other functions. Some apps may also recommend that individuals take a certain action when their therapist is unavailable. If this guidance is faulty and leads anyone to come to harm, it may be unclear whether the app developers or the therapist bore responsibility.

Certain cases involving medical malpractice victims may lead to shared liability if both technology vendors and doctors were responsible for damages.

The Difference Between Complementary and Substitutive Automation

In cases where both doctors and vendors share liability, the courts will need to be able to determine that both parties are responsible. One way to determine who was at fault is to figure out whether the technology facilitates complementary or substitutive automation.

Some instances of technological failure could fall under substitutive automation, as technology effectively replaces doctors or other professionals. For example, a system used to replace a doctor could malfunction and cause injury, which could eliminate the possibility of a doctor being liable and make the equipment manufacturer, developer, distributor, or retailer responsible under strict liability.

Meanwhile, doctors could be at fault if equipment contributed to complementary automation, but fault could still lie in part with developers and others behind faulty devices. For instance, an assistive device could lack sufficient warnings that manufacturers must disclose.

Seeking Compensation for Injuries Resulting from Failed Medical Devices

Whether a device is substitutive or complementary, or whether doctors or people behind the device are liable for injuries, victims may be able to recover damages for any injuries they sustain. Injury victims can do so when they file a claim and work with an attorney to help determine who was at fault, which could include medical professionals, suppliers of the device, or both.