In 2014, Dr. Teoddor Grantcharov, a professor of surgery at the University of Toronto and staff surgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital, launched a pilot project aimed at reducing operating room errors that was lauded by medical malpractice lawyers. At the heart of the project was a ‘black box’ consisting of cameras and microphones that recorded every motion and word that took place during surgical procedures. Its purpose was similar to the aviation technology that tracks flights’ histories to aid investigations into crashes and accidents. We first covered the project in our Neinstein Personal Injury Lawyers blog several years ago.

“We want to understand things that we do well and understand things we don’t do well,” Dr. Grantcharov told the CBC in January. “[We need to] make sure that if we make mistakes in the operating room, these mistakes are no longer repeated.”

The early stages of the project yielded a number of interesting findings, including the fact that errors and adverse events doubled when too many people were in the operating room.

“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.”

Dr. Grantcharov also said that after some initial resistance, the project improved attitudes towards safety among doctors, nurses, and other members of the operating room team. Medical malpractice lawyers have also been following the project closely.

Today, the OR black box project has grown significantly. In August 2017, St. Michael’s Hospital announced that Dr. Grantcharov’s 15-person team was working to incorporate artificial intelligence into their reporting on surgical safety. It also indicated that a second black box had been set up at Amsterdam’s Academic Medical Centre, and that four more were to be installed in Toronto and New York City by the end of that year. In January, the Ottawa Hospital announced that it is planning to install a black box in an operating room on its General campus.

Implementing artificial intelligence will help researchers analyze and draw conclusions from the troves of data the black boxes produce.

“Take bleeding for an example,” Dr. Grantcharov said in a St. Michael’s release. “Our library has thousands of clips of different types of bleeds. The human analysts are able to pinpoint what each bleed looks like, whether it’s an inconsequential bleed, or it’s perfusing a bit more, making it more significant. Then we create what’s called an event matrix, which allows us to identify and map out every different bleed.”

Surgical errors can cause serious, sometimes life-changing injuries. As such, medical malpractice lawyers enthusiastically endorse efforts by the medical community to limit surgical errors. Dr. Grantcharov’s project is an excellent step towards improving surgical patients’ outcomes.


Image credit: Pfree2014/Wikimedia Commons


Greg Neinstein