Starwatch Consumer

Malfunctions raise concerns about robotic surgery system

Updated: 2013-11-11T17:06:46Z

Robotic surgery deaths

A rising number of reports about deaths, injuries and malfunctions linked to the robotic surgery system made by Intuitive Surgical Inc. may pressure hospitals to bolster training for doctors using the $1.5 million device.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration received 3,697 adverse event reports through Nov. 3, compared with 1,595 through all of 2012, an agency official said in an interview last week. While the FDA said the surge may be tied to added public awareness from more use of the machines or recent media reports and recalls, a survey of surgeons released the same day suggested the complex robot interface was a challenge to master and that physician training was inconsistent.

Standardized training on new medical technologies “is a systemic problem,” said Robert Sweet, a medical training expert at the University of Minnesota, in a telephone interview. The spotlight on robotic surgery may help to focus needed attention on the issue, he said.

“Training for robotics has been the wild, wild west for a long, long time,” Jeff Berkley, chief executive of Mimic Technologies Inc., which makes simulators used for robotic training, said by phone yesterday. With patient lawsuits on the rise, hospitals and doctor organizations are realizing “they have to get their act together and start focusing on training.”

The main problem will be how to pay for and oversee the training of widely scattered physicians, Sweet said.

Saudi exports rise

Saudi Arabia increased oil exports last month even as its production eased, according to a person with knowledge of the kingdom’s output policy.

The world’s largest crude exporter shipped 300,000 barrels a day more to foreign markets in October than it did in September, the person said, without providing total export data and asking not to be identified because the figures haven’t been officially released. Exports from OPEC’s biggest supplier were 7.8 million barrels a day in August, the highest since June 2012, according to the Joint Organisations Data Initiative, based in Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia’s oil production fell to 9.75 million barrels a day last month, down from 10.12 million a day in September, the person said. Some 50,000 barrels a day was sent into storage last month, while 9.7 million barrels a day was split between exports and local consumption, the person said, without providing further detail.

The country has the greatest oil reserves, exports and spare production capacity among the 12 members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and provides a measure of stability to world supply and prices when sudden disruptions occur elsewhere. OPEC ministers meet next on Dec. 4 in Vienna to review the group’s output policy.

Saudi Arabia was able to increase the proportion of exports as cooler weather and increased natural gas supply meant less crude was used for electricity generation, the person said. Power consumption peaks during the summer when Saudi homes and offices require more air conditioning.

Worries in Canada

Canadian consumer confidence fell for the fifth time in six weeks as the nation’s economy struggles to build momentum, according to the Bloomberg Nanos Canadian Confidence Index.

The weekly measure of the economic mood of Canadians fell to 58.2 in the period ended Nov. 8, from 58.5 the previous week. The index has declined since touching 59.8, a two-year high, at the end of September.

Sentiment has yet to fully recover from effects of U.S. political gridlock last month. Concern that the global economy will take longer to recover is reducing feelings of job security among Canadians and offsetting news of an agreement in principle on a free trade pact with the European Union.

“As Canadians shift their economic attention away from news on a European trade deal and news related to the U.S. debt ceiling debate towards the holiday shopping season, it will be critical to monitor sentiment over the next few weeks,” said Nik Nanos, head of Ottawa-based Nanos Research Group.

The share of Canadians who say their jobs are secure fell to 64.7 percent last week, from 65.3 the previous week, a drop of more than five percentage points since Sept. 20. Those who say their jobs are not secure increased to 13.1 percent, from as low as 10.6 percent Sept. 27.

The employment picture has been mixed in Canada. Statistics Canada reported Nov. 8 the economy created 13,200 jobs in October, the third straight monthly gain, and the jobless rate held steady at 6.9 percent, the lowest since 2008. On the other hand, the average pace of monthly job gains this year, at 12,600, is half last year’s pace. Wage growth has also slowed. Average hourly wages of permanent employees rose 1.7 percent in October from a year earlier, compared with an average 3 percent over the past decade.

Infiniti back in Japan

Nissan Motor Co. will sell Infiniti cars in Japan in February for the first time, 24 years after the luxury brand was born in the U.S., as it takes on high-end automakers such as Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.

The first model for sale in Japan, named Skyline, will be a hybrid version of Infiniti’s flagship Q50 sedan, Nissan Chief Planning Officer Andy Palmer said at a briefing in Tokyo before the official introduction of the car yesterday. Nissan is targeting initial monthly sales of 200 vehicles for the car, priced from 4.5 million yen ($45,000), he said.

Selling Infiniti in more markets would move Nissan closer to its goal of boosting the brand’s annual sales to 500,000 vehicles by March 2017 and narrow the gap with Bayerische Motoren Werke AG and Mercedes-Benz. Nissan is tapping Japanese consumers’ familiarity with the brand Skyline, which is also the name of a range of autos it currently sells in the nation with roots tracing back to a carmaker for the late Emperor Hirohito.

“Its bloodline, its DNA, is directly from the Prince Motor Company, which used to provide the vehicle for the Japanese emperor,” Palmer said. “There can be no better symbol of the fact that Skyline is linked to the premium and luxury brand.”

Prince Motor first introduced Skyline cars in Japan in 1957, and the automaker merged with Nissan in 1966.

Nissan began selling the Skyline sedan as the Infiniti G sport sedan overseas in 2002 and renamed the model Q50 at the start of this year. The Nissan Skyline will continue to be sold in Japan along with the hybrid Skyline, Palmer said.

Salads, sandwiches recalled

More than 90 tons of prepackaged salads and sandwiches by a California catering company are being recalled because a bacterial strain of E. coli has been linked to its products.

The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service said Glass Onion Catering, based in Richmond, Calif., recalled the salads and sandwich wraps containing cooked chicken and ham after 26 people in three states were sickened with a strand of E. coli.

The products were produced between Sept. 23 and Nov. 6, and were shipped to distribution centers in California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Texas.

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