Are Recorded Surgeries the Future of Medical Malpractice Investigation and Medical Error Prevention?
Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In my blog post from January, I discussed the surgical “black box,” a device developed by researchers at the University of Toronto that would track a surgeon’s actions during surgery and record any errors. The purpose of the device would be to collect data during surgery that could later help shed light on why a patient had a poor surgical outcome and allow researchers to analyze why surgical errors occur in an effort to prevent future mistakes.

In this same vein, a lawmaker in Wisconsin, Rep. Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee), has now introduced legislation that would permit patients to have their surgeries audiovisually recorded. According to an article from the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, if passed, the bill would require healthcare facilities to give surgical patients the option of having their surgery videotaped.

The bill would also allow patients to execute advance directives indicating that they wished to have all of their surgeries recorded. The law would be named for Julie Ayer Ribenzer, a 38-year-old woman who died after receiving too much of the anesthetic propofol during a breast implant surgery. The Wisconsin bill is similar to a proposed New York bill, “Raina’s Law”, named for 19-year old Raina Ferraro who went into cardiac and respiratory arrest due to negligent anesthesia administration during surgery, which sought to require cameras in all operating rooms.

Surgical errors are all too common. Often times, these errors lead to catastrophic injuries and even death. Surgical black boxes, and the proposed Wisconsin and New York laws, may reflect a growing public concern that surgical errors are not being disclosed and that doctors and hospitals are not taking responsibility when errors occur. Sometimes, however, it simply may not be clear why a patient had a poor surgical outcome.

It would seem that allowing audiovisual recording in operating rooms would, if nothing else, provide additional data to help medical providers, as well as patients and their families, understand why something went wrong. But, doctors and hospitals don’t seem to agree. The Wisconsin Hospital Association and Wisconsin Medical Society have both indicated that they would be opposed to Rep. Sinicki’s bill. Some doctors have also shown resistance to bringing black boxes into operating rooms, out of concern that the recordings and data could later be used against them in a legal matter.

The topic of recording surgery is becoming ever more common. It may very well be the case that this is the future of medical malpractice investigation and medical error prevention.


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