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Medical black box could mean the end of surgical errors

Surgery is one of the most complicated and dangerous procedures done in a hospital. Despite the sterile conditions, while in a hospital or medical facility, a patient's body is exposed for treatment and corrective procedures. Infections and other complications are always possible. Even with experienced surgeons, surgical errors are possible. However, such errors may become a thing of the past if a new innovation, a medical black box, makes its way to the operating rooms of hospitals here in Maryland and across the country.

Similar to the black box on airplanes, the surgical black box, currently being developed in a hospital in Toronto, consists of a tracking system, several microphones and cameras and analyzing software to interpret the data. In the medical device's initial test runs it was discovered that around 20 surgical errors were made in 40 laparoscopic operations made by experienced surgeons. Although not all of the errors led to adverse effects or complications, that many mistakes are still an alarming figure.

With the black box in place, errors, whether the technique of the surgeon or a deviation of standard care, can be identified. The challenge, however, is determining how the medical device can caution surgeons and other medical staff while they are committing potentially dangerous mistakes in real-time. There is also the challenge of non-invasively easing the device into the industry.

While plans are being made to test the black box in several parts of Canada, South America and Denmark, discussions about its use in the United States are ongoing. Since the black box is not a drug or medical device, little opposition is seen when it comes to the approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Although the medical recorder is indeed a promising prospect to reduce surgical and other medical errors, in the meantime, Maryland patients will have to be vigilant and possibly file a medical malpractice lawsuit when negligence occurs.

Source: Forbes, "Tricorder X Prize Is Interesting But Surgical 'Black Box' Could Save Lives Right Away," Neil Versel, Aug. 28, 2014

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