Surgical Data Recording Technology

A Solution to Address Medical Errors?

Neal A. Shah, BS; Jessica Jue, MAS; Tim K. Mackey, MAS, PhD


Annals of Surgery. 2020;271(3):431-433. 

In This Article

Patient Safety, Medical Errors, and Surgery

In 2016, a review of the scientific literature concluded that if medical errors were categorized as a disease, it would be the third leading cause of death in the United States.[1] These findings are not surprising; the human cost of iatrogenesis has long been identified as a pervasive challenge in medicine, highlighted in the seminal 2000 Institute of Medicine Report "To Err is Human." Error in the operating room has particularly come under scrutiny; in a large retrospective review of discharge data from Utah and Colorado, a majority of medical adverse events were surgical, with over half of them likely preventable.[2] A 2013 systematic review found that adverse events and potentially preventable adverse events occurred in 14.4% and 5.2% of patients, respectively.[3] The first-hand experiences of surgeons also reflects recognition of this potential hazard, with 8.9% of American College of Surgeons respondents in a cross-sectional survey believing they have made a major medical error in the prior 3 months.[4]

In response, solutions to address medical errors in the operating theater have received growing attention, including technologies that capture details of errant practice patterns assisting surgeons to pinpoint opportunities for corrective measures. This includes recent progress in developing surgical data recording technology to monitor, store, and analyze clinical parameters to reduce medical errors. Such systems/devices vary in scope and utility, with different degrees of technology adoption and integration. We provide a few examples below that illustrate the general purpose and characteristics of surgical data recording technology, colloquially referred to as "surgical black boxes."