Are Cameras in the Operating Room an Effective Way to Curb Medical Malpractice?

Preventable medical errors are absolutely rampant in this country, and what goes on in operating rooms is not always carefully documented. A study conducted by Patient Safety America estimates that more than 400,000 people die each year of preventable medical errors in hospitals and other medical settings. There are several cases of preventable medical errors that caused the death or permanent injury to a patient and their loved ones were left unable to pursue medical malpractice actions because there was no documentation of the surgery.

There is a growing group of Americans who are pushing for laws that would require hospital operating rooms to have video and audio recording capabilities. Had there been cameras in the operating rooms, the families who lost loved ones would be able to know exactly what went on and who was responsible for their loved one’s injuries or death. Toronto surgeon Teodor P. Grantcharov has designed a “black box” that synchronizes a patient’s data with the video and audio recordings in the operating room in the same way athletes and airline pilots review video of their performances.

In a TED Talk at Fort McMurray, Grantcharov spoke about the constant expectations of doctors to be perfect. After a while they begin to believe that they are indeed perfect… until they make a mistake in the operating room. He said that he began videotaping his own surgeries so that he could identify any errors he might have made and improve his performance. “If we don’t know what we’re doing wrong, we’ll never improve,” said the professor of surgery at the University of Toronto in a Washington Post article.

Making a difference around the country

In the Wisconsin state legislature, a bill that would require cameras in operating rooms has been introduced. Called the “Julie Ayer Rubenzer Law,” it is named for a Wisconsin woman who died due to a medical error in surgery. Patient advocate groups across the country are supporting this bill.

The American Medical Association encourages videotaping for educational purposes, and adopted a policy that allows filming patients in a health care setting only when those who are being filmed have given their consent citing privacy issues. Proposed legislation in Massachusetts would require that hospitals allow videotaping by a licensed videographer at the patient’s request has failed due to opposition from hospitals.

Grantcharov developed his “black box” not for use in court in medical malpractice trials, but so that surgeons could reflect on and improve their performance. Grantcharov noted that in a pilot test of the black box device in 54 procedures, 38 showed adverse events and 75 percent of the errors were unnoticed by the surgeons.

Video cameras in operating rooms can have benefits for both patient safety and for surgeons’ performance improvement. However, while physicians are still fearful that the videotaping and data collection will be used against them in malpractice cases, the practice will take a while to catch on.