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Should Hospitals Allow Patients to Record Their Surgical Procedures?

Contentious debate roils health care industry

The health care industry is currently the scene of a contentious debate over whether hospitals should allow patients to record their surgical procedures, according to a report published online in StatNews.

Advocates say the practice is good for transparency, accountability, and patient safety, while detractors are concerned that it will hurt patient–provider relationships and open providers to increased legal risk.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a 672-bed hospital in Boston, has noticed an increase in the number of patients asking to record medical visits, hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Kritz told StatNews. Some want to record a doctor’s instructions or film physical therapy sessions, but others are requesting permission to record medical procedures.

The power of recordings came to national attention earlier this year when a Virginia patient won a $500,000 malpractice suit after an audio recording revealed that his doctors had made insulting remarks about him while he was sedated during a colonoscopy. The cellphone was in the pocket of his pants, wheeled into the room on a cart. That happened only because the surgery was in an outpatient setting, the patient’s lawyer said; most surgeries take place in a hospital, in a sterile environment.

In Massachusetts, state law prohibits patients from making recordings without consent: All parties in a conversation must agree to being recorded.

This past spring, a Wisconsin state representative, inspired by a man who lost his sister after a botched surgery, introduced a bill that would require hospitals to offer patients the option of recording surgeries. The National Medical Malpractice Advocacy Association is trying to get a similar measure introduced in Indiana. Mississippi and Massachusetts lawmakers have introduced similar bills in recent years without success, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A Canadian surgeon, Dr. Teodor Grantcharov, has designed a surgical “black box” with the aim of recording medical errors and improving patient safety. The device records not only audio and video, but also hundreds of other medical data points during a surgical procedure.

The black box has been piloted at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and is set to be tested in two U.S. hospitals next year, as well as in other hospitals in Canada and Europe, Grantcharov said. He said it has great promise to reduce medical errors—so long as it’s used in the spirit of improvement. If the videos are used to “blame and shame” staff, he said, “it will kill the whole safety culture.”

Sources: StatNews; December 15, 2016; and FierceHealthcare; December 15, 2015.

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