‘Black box’ technology could reduce the rate of NJ surgical errors

New “black box” technology designed to record surgeries could help identify common surgical errors and provide surgeons with needed feedback.

In any profession, mistakes can be difficult to avoid, even for experienced and conscientious professionals. The medical profession is no exception; however, research suggests that in many cases, medical mistakes could be prevented with better practices. To address this issue, researchers in Canada are developing a "black box" to monitor surgical procedures. In the future, this technology could help surgeons in New Jersey identify and eventually avoid unnecessary surgical errors.

Error identification and other feedback

According to The Toronto Star, the current black box system consists of three microphones, three cameras and the actual black box recording device. Two cameras are situated in the operating room, and a third camera records the surgery. After each procedure, a team analyzes the recordings to identify errors, focusing on issues with group communication, surgical techniques and the operating room environment.

The device's inventor has used the black box to record more than 80 surgeries. The device has only been tested in one hospital, but professionals at other facilities have also expressed interest in using it. As the technology advances, it could offer various benefits for patients and surgeons alike, including the following gains:

  • Accurate feedback - the inventor of the device notes that surgeons usually cannot properly judge how they perform during surgery. Operating room culture may also discourage others from pointing out errors or suggesting ways that a surgeon could improve.
  • Procedural improvements - by identifying common errors, the device can help surgeons refine their techniques or implement better practices. In early tests monitoring bariatric surgery, the device has already revealed that 86 percent of errors observed occur during the same two steps of the procedure.
  • Cost reductions - a lower rate of surgical errors would allow surgeons to perform more operations while reducing revision surgeries, saving money for both hospitals and patients.

The most recent patient safety report from the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, which was published in 2011, indicates surgical errors are not a trivial concern for New Jersey residents. The report indicated that wrong-site or wrong-patient operations increased 169 percent from 2008 to 2009, while the number of patients who fell into comas or passed away during or after surgical procedures more than doubled over the same period.

The report does not directly state how many of these mistakes were preventable; however, it cites previous research that suggests at least half of all surgical errors are avoidable.

Getting help

Sadly, many people may suffer needless harm as a result of preventable errors during surgery. Anyone who has suffered an injury and believes substandard medical care played a role should consult with a personal injury attorney about the possibility of pursuing compensation.

Keywords: surgical, error, malpractice