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New black box could reduce surgeons' errors

New York residents may not have heard of a new invention that could make surgery safer. However, the very device that is designed to reduce the frequency of medical mistakes could face hurdles to being placed in operating rooms due to the fear of its potential use in medical malpractice lawsuits.

Researchers in Canada are developing what they call a black box, which they hope will reduce surgical errors by monitoring surgeries as they are happening and informing the surgeons when any errors occur. However, the use of the box also raises the possibility that errors will be recorded and used against physicians in medical malpractice lawsuits. Researchers say that the box still needs more work to ensure that it is primarily an educational tool.

Surgeons make an average of 20 errors per operation, and not every error causes a complication. The team of researchers hopes to determine which ones are significant in terms of patient safety. The box also warns about techniques that are linked to higher complications. However, some experts feel that being compelled to use the box might make surgeons less effective because they would become nervous.

Currently, data used in peer review is not admissible in courts. It is unclear where the recordings from the black box would fall legally. The box has already been tested on several dozen patients undergoing weight loss surgery, and worldwide testing is set to expand.

If such a device was used during surgery and a complication occurred as the result of an error, a court might consider its information admissible if the specific data was not used for peer review. However, if its use became widespread, it might also significantly reduce errors and surgical complications.

Source: CNN, "Surgical 'black box' could reduce errors", Chethan Sathya, August 22, 2014

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