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Could operating room recordings help curtail deadly mistakes?

Recordings of operating room procedures could help prevent medical mistakes and make it easier for victims of these mistakes to secure needed compensation.

Medical mistakes occur far more frequently than doctors and patients in Pennsylvania would like to acknowledge. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that 1,463 people in the state filed malpractice lawsuits in 2014 alone on the basis of medical errors or negligence that caused serious personal injuries. The number of injury victims who decided against taking legal action or have yet to make claims may be even higher.

Advocates have suggested various techniques to reduce these harmful and often preventable errors, from surgical checklists to communication training. Now, some advocates are calling for the use of cameras in operating rooms to prevent mistakes and ensure that injury victims receive appropriate remedies when errors do occur.

Shedding light on operating room errors

According to The Washington Post, supporters contend that recording operating room procedures can offer various benefits. Normally, when medical errors occur, reconstructing what went wrong - whether for educational or legal purposes - can be difficult. Often, the event must be recreated based on sparse notes and witness reports, which may be inaccurate. Some medical professionals may not remember a procedure well, while others may withhold information to protect themselves.

In theory, operating room cameras can create an objective record of everything that happens during a medical procedure. This might help surgeons more easily identify harmful surgical mistakes and prevent them in the future. It also could help victims of medical mistakes more easily establish that a medical professional or provider was negligent.

Proposed use of 'black box' technology

Advanced technology that can record operating room procedures is already being developed. Researchers in Canada have been developing a "black box," which combines videotape, audio recordings and physical data to provide a comprehensive record of surgical procedures. This technology will soon be tested in two hospitals in the U.S. Unfortunately, several factors may impede its use in other facilities. Critics of operating room recordings have expressed the following concerns:

  • Privacy issues - recordings could violate the privacy of patients, doctors and their support staff.
  • Operational costs - installing and operating the cameras could create burdensome expenses for patients or healthcare providers.
  • Accuracy - the cameras may not always capture every aspect of an operation or offer a conclusive picture of what happened.

Still, despite these drawbacks, the use of these cameras could offer significant benefits over present methods of recording operating room procedures.

Calls to legally require recordings

In recent years, some states have considered legislation that would enable or even mandate the recording of operating room procedures. In Massachusetts, lawmakers have tried to require hospitals to permit patients to hire videographers to record surgical procedures, with no success. In Wisconsin, pending legislation seeks to require the recording of every operating room procedure. If the bill succeeds, supporters hope that it will encourage better outcomes and offer more protection to victims of medical errors.

Unfortunately, here in Pennsylvania, operating room recordings are not required, and requesting recordings may not be a feasible option for most people. This can make proving that surgical errors occurred incredibly difficult for injury victims. As a result, anyone who has suffered injuries or lost a loved one due to medical mistakes should consider consulting with a malpractice attorney about the best means of pursuing recourse.

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