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Improving Patient Safety: The Surgical Black Box

December 28, 2018

After an aviation accident, immediate efforts are made to recover an electronic recording device in the aircraft known as the “black box.” The aviation black box records important data, including cockpit voices and sounds, and recent flight history. The black box helps facilitate the investigation of aviation accidents and incidents to improve safety and reduce fatal aviation accidents. The use of audio and visual recording equipment not only assists in determining the cause of accidents, but also prevents them. If recording increases safety in the aviation industry, why not use it in the healthcare industry? Could this technology be implemented in operating rooms to increase patient safety?

Medical errors are common. The Journal of Patient Safety in 2013 revealed medial errors are the third-leading cause of death in America, trailing only heart disease and cancer. Between 210,000 and 440,000 hospital patients each year suffer a preventable harm in hospitals that contribute to death. Many errors occur during surgical procedures. Adverse events in the operating room are common contributors of morbidity and mortality in surgical patients. Adverse events often occur due to deviations in performance and environmental factors. Although comprehensive intraoperative data analysis and transparent disclosure have been advocated to better understand how to improve surgical safety, they have rarely been done.

While there is no guarantee in any medical procedure and all procedures carry risks, what if a camera recorded audio and visual data in an operating room? Would the technology increase patient safety? Some argue “black box” technology in the healthcare setting would only be beneficial in memorializing events during a procedure to allow lawyers to prosecute or defend. However, the reality is the black box would be a tool to increase patient safety and prevent negligence.

Dr. Teodor Grantcharov, a surgeon in Toronto, first introduced black box technology to the healthcare industry. His black box platform records everything that happens in a surgical suite: cameras mounted in the room, physiological data from the anesthesia monitor, cameras mounted on laparoscopic instruments, noise, air temperature, telephone data, and even how often the door is open and closed. Dr. Grantcharov’s goal is to increase patient safety by quantifying performance in an operating room. While there are only a handful of Dr. Grantcharov’s black boxes in use, the technology is getting more attention in the current “safety culture,” where patients are demanding more caution to increase safety.

The benefits of black box technology in an operating room are two-fold. The first is the ability for after-the-fact analysis. Data collected from a surgical black box could be analyzed to determine areas for improvement and to identify safety concerns for implementation of new policies and procedures to decrease errors. Second, a black box would provide the benefit of direct observation of healthcare professionals. Knowledge of being observed changes behavior. A black box in an operating room could increase safety because it is proven that most individuals follow the rules closely when being watched or recorded.

Perhaps you or a loved one recently visited a hospital and experienced patient safety violations.  If the violations caused a devastating result, seek legal recourse immediately. Because black box technology does not yet exist in Michigan, it is important to speak to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Michigan law is unfair to people injured by medical professionals and any delay seeking legal help can mean losing your right to reimbursement. A medical malpractice lawsuit must, typically, be brought within 2 years after the medical error (e.g., surgery date) or be barred forever.

At Buchanan Firm, our combined legal-medical team has decades of experience handling medical malpractice cases involving patient safety violations. We have medical professionals on staff to talk with you and immediately review your claim. Our team quickly and efficiently assess the medical facts and takes immediate action to protect your legal rights.