More than 200,000 patients die from medical errors every year. This is not only awful for the patients and their families, it can also result in malpractice suits and a myriad of other legal problems for doctors and hospitals, sometimes even causing doctors to have their licenses revoked. So it’s no surprise that reducing the number of surgical errors is a major priority for the medical profession, and many hospitals around the world are taking steps to ensure this happens.
Black Boxes in Operating Rooms
The idea of taking cameras into the operating room comes from aviation. The famous “black box” on an airplane includes a camera that records video during flight. In the event of a crash or accident, the footage can be used to determine whether the accident came from human or mechanical error. This same concept is now being used in operating rooms to record procedures and reduce errors.
Canadian researchers have even developed a “black box” that can help monitor a patient’s physical vitals and data while videotaping a procedure. However, it’s still in the beginning stages of its inception, and it’s not certain what the outcome of such a practice will be.
Video Footage Gives Surgeons a Chance to Review Their Own Work
With video footage of every procedure, surgeons will have the opportunity to review their techniques and see how they need to improve. Surgeons spend a lot of time watching other surgeons perform procedures as they learn to do it themselves, but they don’t spend much time watching their own work.
“If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong, we’ll never improve,” Teodor P. Grantcharov, a Professor of Surgery at the University of Toronto reported to the Washington Post. “This is what many other high-performance industries have been using for decades.”
Because the practice is anticipated to be highly effective, many states are even looking to make cameras in the operating room mandatory. Wisconsin, for example, has introduced a bill that would make this necessary for all hospitals in the state.
The arguments for passing the bill are strong: The ability to review techniques and potentially stop mistakes in the operating room is extremely enticing. It could also save hospitals billions of dollars in malpractice lawsuits and payouts.
The Downside: Causing More Problems Than It Solves?
The major problem with cameras in the operating room is the issue of privacy. Besides the fact that patients may not want their particular surgery on video, doctors and nurses are claiming rights to talk freely about a patient without being overheard or second-guessed by other medical professionals. This particular issue could be partly solved by requiring consent from the patient. Still, it might make doctors and nurses more nervous during the procedure if they know they’re being recorded.
Hospitals are also concerned about the costs associated with installing and maintaining this equipment. In the past some states have introduced bills that would require a licensed videographer in the operating room at the cost of the patient, but insurance agencies and hospital administrations have been firm in fighting such legislation.
Aside from that, cameras in surgery could result in even more malpractice lawsuits, perhaps baseless ones. When lawyers and patients are able to comb through video footage, they may be able to take note of small mistakes that would otherwise seem unworthy of disputation, or that caused no harm.
On balance, though, most professionals believe that the cameras will be more helpful than harmful in addressing malpractice suits. As long as the data is recorded and shared very carefully, it could help doctors fight malpractice lawsuits even as it improves patients’ odds in surgery.