canadian hospital outfits or with black box recording system

Many hospital operating rooms function as a sort of display room for medical technology, showcasing the most modern devices and scientific advancements designed to make surgery easier and keep patients safer. Noticeably absent among all this high-tech gadgetry, however, is usually any sort of camera system designed to record what transpires during a given surgical procedure.

Interestingly enough, one Toronto-based hospital is now bucking this trend thanks to the efforts of one of its surgeons.

Inspired by the relative transparency of the aviation industry, the surgeon has developed a so-called ‘black box’ consisting of three cameras and three microphones that record all aspects of a surgical procedure. Here, one of the cameras records the actual surgery (the identity of the patient remains protected) while the two others are set up to record the surrounding operating room.

After every procedure, the audio and video footage recorded and stored in the black box is reviewed by an independent team, which examines everything from communication among surgical team members and potential medical hazards to surgical techniques and levels of cooperation.

According to the surgeon, an initial pilot program covering roughly 80 gastric bypass surgeries performed by his team revealed that 86 percent of errors in the procedures — which were classified as relatively minor and having no effect on the patient — occurred during the same two steps. This identification of potential problem areas enabled his surgical team to make the necessary adjustments and avoid making the same mistakes going forward.

The surgeon indicates that while there is always a chance that potentially harmful footage could be used in a future medical malpractice case, this concern is clearly outweighed by the potential benefits of the black box system.

“With the data, we will probably be able to identify what are the most dangerous steps of every surgical procedure,” he said. “If we can proactively predict the steps, and if we can prepare our team to maximize their attention and performance during these steps, I think we can eliminate many hazards in the operating theatre.”

In addition, the surgeon argues that the black box system could ultimately save hospitals money as surgeons become more efficient and commit fewer adverse events, meaning those surgical errors that necessitate additional and costly treatment to fix the injuries they’ve caused.

While only the one Toronto-based hospital has been using the black box system, other hospitals have expressed interest in the technology. It remains to be seen whether any hospital here in the U.S. would ever prove willing to embrace it in light of both privacy and, more significantly, liability concerns.

What are your thoughts on this idea? Would you like to see it in Pennsylvania hospitals?

Source: The Toronto Star, “‘Black box’ tracks errors in Toronto operating room,” Gemma Karstens-Smith, July 9, 2014; CBC News, ” OR recordings aim to track surgical errors,” July 10, 2014

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