White coat, black box: Ottawa Hospital unveils OR recording device

There's a new tool in one of the Ottawa Hospital's operating rooms, but it's not a new scalpel or a scanning device. Rather, it's designed to keep an eye on those tools — and the surgeons who use them.

New tool designed to improve surgeries, says lead researcher

The Ottawa Hospital has installed a 'black box' in one of its operating rooms. It can record everything that takes place — with the goal of improving communication between medical staff. (Shutterstock/Bright097)

There's a new tool in one of the Ottawa Hospital's operating rooms, but it's not a new scalpel or a scanning device.

Rather, it's something designed to keep an eye on those tools — and the surgeons who use them.

The hospital has installed a "black box" in one of its operating rooms at its general campus to record surgeries.

Roughly the size of a DVD player, the box captures operating room conversations, shoots video, and even tracks a patient's vital signs during their surgery.

Dr. Sylvain Boet, the project's lead researcher and an anesthesiologist at the hospital, said the idea is to track how an operating room is functioning and identify risks before things go wrong.  

"We don't want to wait for a complication to understand what happens. We want to systematically identify behavior at risk of complication," he told on CBC Radio's All In A Day.

Communication is key

Nicole Etherington, a sociologist and researcher involved with the project, said an operating room has a lot of players and a lot of crucial back-and-forth — so it's important to understand how it works.

"All of these people have to work effectively together to achieve a common goal, which is a safe and efficient surgery for the patient, Etherington said.

"As you can imagine, the communication that occurs between them is actually very important."

Etherington said they want to be able to provide advice to doctors and nurses in the room on things they're doing well and areas where they can improve.

The hope is that the black box blends into the background over time.

"People maybe notice it a little bit in the beginning but then just get on [with their] daily routine and don't even think about it," she said.

Privacy protected 

Patients are, however, allowed to opt out of having the device used during their surgery. Any private information captured by the box is protected, the hospital says. 

Boet said he doesn't envision the tool being used to find fault if a surgery goes wrong, but more to understand how to make an operating room work best.

He said the Ottawa Hospital's medical staff have embraced the idea.

"Every clinician comes to work every day to provide the best possible care for their patients. That's their number one goal. And so any opportunity to improve care is usually welcomed," he said. 

The black box was only recently installed and the researchers are waiting to gather more data before drawing any conclusions.

The Ottawa Hospital is the fourth in Canada to install one and the first outside the Toronto area.


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