New push for cameras in Wisconsin's operating rooms

200,000 Americans die each year from medical error

Tracking errors in the O.R.  It's a new push in Wisconsin to keep patient's safe, but a bill to put cameras in operating rooms is facing some pushback. 

It's round two for this bill. Last session it didn't make it out of committee, but the lawmaker behind the Surgical Black Box says she's in it for the long haul, to protect patients.

Married almost 55 years Dennis Vollrath lost his wife, Judy, two months ago.  He feels her death was ultimately caused by a mistake a surgeon made 16 years ago.

"She lost all of her quality of life," Vollrath explained.  

Judy had what was supposed to be a routine surgery on her large intestine back in 2001.  

"That's when things went bad, really bad,"  Vollrath said.

He said numerous trips to the E.R. followed, more surgeries and endless hospital stays.

"She was in so much pain that she went into convulsions, and I couldn't do anything," Vollrath said. 

Vollrath said he couldn't get any answers.

"It's an absolute brick wall. You cannot find out."  

Vollrath believes having a camera in the operating room would have given him something to work with.  The Surgical Black Box bill would give patients in Wisconsin that option.

"I do believe this is the future of our medical records," the author of the bill, Rep. Christine Sinicki said.  

The bill would allow any patient to make a request for their surgery to be recorded, which would then be a permanent part of their medical records.  

"This is not about going after bad doctors or malpractice," Sinicki explained.  "It's just a way for families to actually get some closure and get some answers."

More than 200,000 Americans die each year from medical errors.  Forty percent of those errors happen in the O.R., but according to a government agency that helps improve patient care, Wisconsin was the top state in 2016 for quality health care.  

The Wisconsin Hospital Association released a statement which said our state is on the right track. WHA doesn't feel this bill would improve patient safety.

"WHA has a strong commitment to transparency in healthcare and does not believe cameras in the operating room would add to that commitment to transparency and, even worse, will create distractions for the patient care team," the statement read.  

Canadian surgeon, Dr. Teodor Grantcharov, believes in cameras in the O.R.  

"We can make surgery safer," Grantcharov said. 

But Grantcharov feels it should only be used as a teaching tool, saying "our goal is to change the way we practice surgery."  

In 2014, he started a pilot study at a Toronto hospital where all procedures, by one group of surgeons, were recorded and evaluated.  

"The group of surgeons who received video feedback performed significantly better and were able to reduce the number of errors by 50 percent," Grantcharov explained.
 
He also said changes to create a system that's open and transparent have to come from within the surgical profession.

"Keep in mind the end goal of it, which is to improve patient safety. Not to create a new industry of malpractice litigation," Grantcharov said.

Vollrath still doesn't have any answers when it comes to his wife.  

"She gave up. She was in so much pain," Vollrath said. 

Judy's official cause of death was complications from an infection.  Vollrath hopes there's a future for this bill so other families are not left in the dark. 

Grantcharov's O.R. Black Box Program is in several Toronto hospitals and is expanding, including a hospital in New York City sometime this year.  One issue he brought up is with patients having access to recordings is privacy for the surgical team.

Rep. Sinicki says the bill was carefully drafted so that recordings in the O.R. would be subject to federal HIPAA laws, the same as medical records.  

The bill has been referred to a committee, and Sinicki hopes it gets assigned a hearing.  She believes it will eventually pass but told us it's probably going to take a while.

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