New monitoring technology could prevent needless errors in IL surgeries

New technology to monitor surgical procedures and operating room staff could eventually help reduce preventable errors during surgery.

As anyone who has undergone surgery in Chicago knows, the potential for related complications is high; even if a procedure is performed optimally, certain risks, such as infections, cannot be entirely eliminated. Unfortunately, many patients suffer harm during or after surgery because of mistakes that should have been avoided. New technology shows potential to address this issue by identifying and eventually helping prevent surgical errors.

An operating room 'black box'

In Toronto, researchers are working on developing a "black box" device that records surgical procedures. According to CNN, the device currently consists of operating room cameras and microphones, along with the recording box. In addition to taping the surgery, the equipment in the operating room captures the surgeon's actions and all interactions between members of the surgical team.

Eventually, researchers hope to incorporate software that will allow the black box to identify common errors and alert surgeons to those errors. This would allow surgeons to improve their techniques based on targeted feedback, which is something that many of these professionals do not receive regularly.

The device's inventor notes that surgeons often aren't aware of surgical mistakes unless a medical complication develops. Even when this happens, identifying the underlying error can be difficult. The black box should make it easier for surgeons to go back and pinpoint likely causes of surgical complications.

Troubling surgical error rates

The results of early black box recordings indicate that the device could help many surgeons improve their performance. The recordings show that the average surgeon makes about 20 mistakes per procedure. These "mistakes" are defined as deviations from standard protocol, and they do not always result in harm. Alarmingly, though, a surgeon's age and experience have no impact on a surgeon's risk of making errors, and many surgeons do not even realize when errors have occurred.

Broader data on the frequency of surgical errors is limited. However, one 2012 study found that "never events," or surgical errors that should never excusably occur, happen with shocking frequency in the U.S. According to American Medical News, the study produced the following findings:

  • Every week, at least 80 Americans suffer from never events, such as wrong-site operations or retained objects. More than 4,000 of these events occur each year.
  • One-third of these patients suffer permanent injury as a result of never events.
  • The risk of these errors does not appear to be correlated with inexperience or advanced age. In fact, surgeons between ages 40 and 49 made 36 percent of these errors, which represented the largest proportion for any age group.

It's reasonable to speculate that mistakes that are less egregious occur at least as often. The use of the black box technology could help medical professionals identify the most serious errors and develop protocols to guard against them.

Recourse after surgical injuries

Unfortunately, new technology and careful procedures may never be able to prevent every surgical error. In Illinois, the victims of these errors and other forms of medical malpractice may be able to seek compensation for their injuries, if they can show that a medical professional's treatment failed to meet a reasonable standard of care and resulted in injury.

Malpractice victims must claim an injury within two years of becoming aware of it, unless the injury occurred before the victim was 18 years old. If this is the case, victims must file the claim within 8 years or before turning 22, whichever comes first. Given these strict deadlines, anyone who has suffered harm from substandard medical care should consider consulting with a personal injury attorney to determine the best way of addressing the wrongful injury.

Keywords: malpractice, surgery, error