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What could be easier malpractice fix than cameras in the OR?

Errors committed by negligent doctors can be difficult to spot and hard to prove as being cases of medical malpractice. One reason that's true is that the mistake happens while the patient is under sedation. Other times, as we noted in a post last month, it's just a matter of poor communication.

Medical practitioners in North Carolina are well aware that there are certain things that do occur in the delivery of care that should never happen. Such preventable errors are estimated to result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans every year.

As that previous post noted, misidentifying a baby is one. Another that qualifies as a never event would be if a surgeon operates on the wrong part of the patient's body or the wrong patient altogether.

There are easy fixes to be had. In the baby misidentification case, the repair was just to add some text to the wristband on the child. In the operating room, a Canadian doctor suggests it should be as easy as installing a video "black box."

Similar to what have been used for decades in planes, trains and other industries, the OR recorder makes it possible to watch and hear what happens, as it happens. It also synchronizes the action with the patient's physical data to provide the medical team with a real-time gauge of the procedure.

The doctor who invented the device says it just makes sense. "If we don't know what we're doing wrong, we'll never improve," he says. And patient advocates say it offers consumers and regulators a level of truth and accuracy that has been missing for too long.

Not surprisingly, the medical establishment is less enthusiastic and has often opposed efforts to mandate such oversight. The use of the videos in malpractice cases is one driver behind that opposition, but hospital administrators also cite the cost of installing and maintaining the equipment. Another expert says it could violate the privacy of the care providers on the team.

The inventor says his intent is to provide the profession with a way to critically review procedures and improve care industry-wide. In that regard, he says the data captured by the black box would reduce malpractice claims. But he also admits that unless it's introduced with care, the industry will shut it down.

What do you think? Is a black box in the OR the right thing to do?

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