Hospital black box project aims to reduce OR errors

Three years ago, a Toronto hospital installed its first black box in an operating room. Now the doctor behind that project is bringing the devices to hospitals in Ottawa.

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Three years ago, a Toronto hospital installed its first black box in an operating room. Now the doctor behind that project is bringing the devices to hospitals in Ottawa.

Teodor Grantcharov has been testing his boxes — made up of cameras and microphones that record each move of the scalpel and every word spoken in the operating room — for about three years.

"We want to understand things that we do well and understand things we don't do so well," said Grantcharov, a professor of surgery at the University of Toronto and a staff surgeon at St. Michael's Hospital, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.

"[We need to] make sure that if we make mistakes in the operating room, these mistakes are no longer repeated."

Working to save lives

The first black box in Ottawa will be installed at the General campus of the Ottawa Hospital in the next few months, according to Sylvain Boet, an associate professor with the University of Ottawa who is leading the hospital's black box project. 

Early data from the project found that when there were many people in the room, the number of "interoperative errors and adverse events" doubled, Grantcharov said. 

"It showed us that with a simple intervention — reducing the number of unnecessary people in the operating room — we were able to bring down ... the number of errors," he said. 

Data from the video cameras is used for training as well, Grantcharov said, with operating teams working together to examine technical errors and look for ways to improve.

Improved attitudes toward safety

There were a few initial concerns from doctors about how the data would be used and how beneficial the information would be, Grantcharov said. 

But as the project progressed, there was little doubt that they were on the right track, he said.

"It improved the attitudes towards safety," he said. "Not only the doctors and nurses, but the entire OR team."

Patients undergoing an operation won't have to worry about their privacy — they're always asked for their consent before the procedure begins, Grantcharov said.

He said that from patients, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

"The most common response I hear from my patients is, 'I can't believe this hasn't been done before.'"

With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning