Could black box technology protect patients against surgical mistakes?

A “black box” that records audio and visual data during surgery may help surgeons identify and correct common errors, reducing adverse patient outcomes.

When people from Indianapolis prepare for surgery, they often believe the risk of errors is small. Sadly, though, this is not always the case. One study published in the journal Surgery found that "never events," or mistakes that should never excusably happen, occur over 4,000 times per year. Surgery mistakes that are less outrageous, yet still potentially devastating, may occur even more regularly. Fortunately, a new "black box" recording device may help reduce these unnecessary errors.

Constructive operating room feedback

The black box aims to give surgeons feedback that they might not otherwise receive, according to the Toronto Star. The device, which is being developed and tested in Toronto, consists of three microphones; two cameras that monitor the surgeon and operating room; and a third camera that focuses on the surgical procedure. During early tests, a team in Toronto has used visual and audio data collected with the black box to analyze the following things:

  • The surgeon's performance and techniques
  • The surgical team's ability to communicate and work together
  • Potential dangers in the operating room

The surgeon who developed the device hopes that it will help eventually surgeons acknowledge their mistakes, learn from common missteps and eliminate needless surgical errors. A reduction in errors could directly benefit patients by reducing complications and necessary revision operations. It could also allow surgeons to perform a greater number of procedures, improving outcomes for patients in need of immediate medical attention.

Outlook for the device

Unfortunately, the black box may not be a solution that can be implemented in every operating room. The Philadelphia Inquirer notes that some doctors may be fearful of using the device and facing lawsuits supported by the data the device collects. For surgeries that are performed infrequently or tailored to the patient, the black box may not be able to provide accurate feedback.

Still, despite these limitations, the device has already shown promise to improve operating room safety. During a pilot test in Toronto, the black box was used during roughly 80 minimally invasive gastric bypass surgeries, according to the Toronto Star. Analysis of the data gathered revealed that 86 percent of observed errors occurred during the same two steps of the surgery. The team that analyzed the data has already started using it to create educational resources for other surgeons.

St. Michael's hospital in Toronto is currently the only location where the black box is being tested. However, hospitals in other areas, including European countries, have already expressed interest in using the device. Eventually, the technology could be welcome in American hospitals, especially if it keeps yielding useful insights into surgical errors and best practices.

Addressing surgical errors

Sadly, until then, people in Indiana may face an alarming risk of unnecessary mistakes when they undergo surgery. Anyone who has suffered harm as a result of surgical errors should consider meeting with a medical malpractice attorney to find out whether pursuing compensation could be worthwhile.

Keywords: surgery, error, malpractice