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Surgical Black Box Helps Prevent Errors & Medical Malpractice

Several states throughout the country have bills pending which would give patients the right to have surgical procedures videotaped or otherwise recorded. One such bill, called Raina's Law, is being considered in New York and is named after a woman who died during surgery as a result of anesthesiologist negligence. Another, Assembly Bill 255 or the Julie Ayer Rubenze Law, is being considered in Wisconsin. That bill is named after a young woman who also died due to anesthesia complications during surgical procedures.

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The bills aim to help prevent surgical errors and to make it easier for patients and their families to pursue malpractice claims when mistakes happen. However, while these bills could have an impact if states pass these laws, some are concerned action on the state level is not sufficient to prevent surgical errors.

The Hill recently published an article by the brother of Julie Ayer Rubenze, for whom the proposed Wisconsin law is named. He argues federal lawmakers should make several fundamental changes applicable to the entire country to bring down the rate of injuries and fatalities during surgical procedures.

Proposed Laws and Legal Changes to Prevent Surgical Errors

The brother of the Wisconsin woman killed during surgery met with the Wisconsin State Representative who introduced the bill named after his sister, which is also being called the "Surgical Black Box Bill." The bill is being called the "strongest patient safety bill in generations," because it allows all data obtained on the video recording to be used in a court of law.

The data from the video recording would also be used by disciplinary boards so bad doctors could be identified. However, if it goes into effect, it would only impact Wisconsin- and if New York's law goes into effect, it would only protect patients in New York. At the federal level, and in other states, patients would continue to be limited in their ability to understand what goes on during their surgical procedures.

CNN reports surgical "black boxes" are currently under development, and could even go beyond just simple video cameras to make a major impact on patient safety. These black boxes would use microphones and cameras to record interactions among surgical staff, communications among medical providers, and actions of the surgeon performing the procedure.

Patients nationwide should be provided with the right to have these black boxes used in operating rooms if they wish to understand what surgeons are doing during procedures and patients nationwide should be able to use the information recorded on these videos when problems occur during surgery.

The brother of the Wisconsin woman also argues certain other changes need to be made on the federal level to positively impact patient care during surgeries. For example, a national provider database should be created so patients can research the history of their surgeons and a national tracking system should be created for doctors who are found liable for malpractice. Doctors who lose their license in one state are currently resurfacing in other states as well, with patients unaware their doctor has made serious mistakes in the past.

While Federal laws dealing with malpractice in general might sound attractive, there are powerful anti-plaintiff forces in Congress that might seek to tie such measures to limitations on damages . For the moment at least, it is probably in the interest of patients to have this issue dealt with on a state by state basis.

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