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Editor's Page: Say No to Surveillance Cameras in the OR
A proposed law would require ASCs and hospitals to install black boxes.
Dan O'Connor
Publish Date: July 9, 2015   |  Tags:   Editors Page
OR Excellence

Marriott Rivercenter San Antonio, Texas
Oct. 13-16


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Are surveillance cameras in the OR a good idea? Depends on why they're there. If they're intended to enhance surgeon performance and to find out why adverse events happen in the name of patient safety, then, yes, the very black box technology that has helped improve airline safety could do the same for surgery. But if the camera's job is to snoop, to be Big Brother looking over your shoulder during procedures and watching your every move, then we say no to tracking time-stamped data.

Some argue that cameras could help prevent providers from behaving badly, as well as aid malpractice victims and even help justify a doctor's defense against malpractice. As you can see in the InstaPoll results to the right, a panel of our readers is split right down the middle.

Others argue that a high-risk industry like surgery should monitor the performance of frontline workers. We disagree, especially when you consider what's behind recent efforts to install cameras in operating rooms.

If you haven't heard the incredibly insensitive anesthesiologist trash the sedated patient who inadvertently recorded his entire colonoscopy on his iPhone, take a few minutes to listen at osmag.net/nFqFF5. Soon after this story went viral, the push for cameras in the OR began to pick up steam.

Last month, a Wisconsin state legislator introduced a bill that would require surgery centers and hospitals to offer surgical patients the option to have their surgical procedures videotaped. Proponents of the bill say that malpractice cases may be prevented if docs know they are being watched.

The bill, called the "Julie Ayer Rubenzer Law," was inspired by the story of a woman who died from an anesthesia overdose in Florida in 2003. Ms. Rubenzer was undergoing a breast augmentation surgery in Florida when her surgeon — who did not have an anesthesia provider present in the room — gave Ms. Rubenzer too much propofol, according to court records. She fell into a coma and died several days later. Prosecutors declined to press charges against the doctor, though he did eventually lose his license.

OSM logo

Are surveillance cameras in the OR a good idea?

  • yes 39%
  • no 41%
  • unsure 20%

SOURCE: Outpatient Surgery Magazine, June 2015, n=246

Following the incident, Ms. Rubenzer's brother formed the National Organization for Medical Malpractice Victims and began pushing for black boxes in the OR that could be used to prosecute cases like his sister's. Not all are pleased with the proposed law.

"Improving the quality and safety of care takes hard work, communication and commitment. Those efforts will hardly be furthered by this proposal, and it may in fact do just the opposite," says the Wisconsin Hospital Association. "We are disappointed with this legislation and the rationale behind its creation."

Though efforts to install cameras in the OR are continuing to garner attention, the movement is still in its early stages. While the bill, if approved, would be the first of its kind in the country, it's not expected to pass the legislature this year.

The Virginia man who was repeatedly mocked and insulted while he was sedated during a colonoscopy? He had his own black box tucked in his pants pocket. He wanted to preserve instructions his doctor would give him after the procedure, so he hit "record" on his smartphone's audio recorder before surgery and tucked it in his pants beneath a table in the GI suite. A jury awarded him $100,000 for defamation, $200,000 for medical malpractice, and $200,000 for punitive damages. An iPhone tucked in your back pocket can be just as good as a black box hung in the OR.