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Could Surgical 'Black Box' Reduce Errors in Surgery?

Posted on behalf of Michael D'Amico of D'Amico & Pettinicchi, LLC on Aug 28, 2014 in Surgical Errors

When it comes to undergoing an operation, there are many things that could go wrong. Research conducted by one surgeon indicates that an average of 20 errors occur during every surgery.  Sometimes the wrong procedure is performed. Other times a vital organ is nicked or perforated in the course of the procedure. In still other situations the wrong body part is operated on or instruments or other objects used in the course of the surgery are left behind. While not all of the errors committed are this serious and may not even result in any harm to a patient, others could lead to catastrophic injuries or even death.

To try to reduce the number of these incidents that occur, there are continual efforts to make such procedures safer such as through the use of checklists. Another idea that is currently being developed involves the use of what is being called a surgical “black box".

The idea behind the black box is similar to that of what is found on airplanes where details regarding the procedure are captured and analyzed. Video cameras and microphones located inside the operating room would capture each person’s actions and interactions. That information would then be analyzed by computer software.

The black box could be useful both immediately as well as later. Analysis could let surgeons know immediately if they had committed an error providing them the opportunity to address the issue. The recordings could later be reviewed by the surgeon when necessary either to prepare for a similar surgery or work on surgical technique.

Though this technology is not yet available in the United States, researchers in Canada are working on it and have even utilized it in approximately 40 laparoscopic surgeries. Because it is not a medical device, it could be quickly rolled out in the U.S. without having to obtain U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

Following an operation where a surgical error occurs, a victim may file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the responsible parties. When such an error leads to death, the lawsuit may be filed by the family of the deceased. When successful, the compensation received might make the situation easier to deal with.