Canadian Doctor Develops Black Box to Catch Surgical Errors

Sarah Klein | October 10th, 2013

surgical negligenceDr. TeodorGrantcharov wants to transform one of the riskiest areas of medicine: surgery.  A flight crew responsible for the lives of possibly hundreds of passengers on a commercial jet liner is monitored by a “black box” that records their actions and words.  Dr. Grantcharov wants technology to monitor those in the operating room, people who have one life in their hands, according to an article in Toronto’s National Post. The system of audio and video recordings could be used to help prevent incidents of surgical negligence in the future.

“I’m sure some people will feel threatened, like pilots felt threatened when the black box was first introduced,” the physician is quoted as saying in the National Post. “But… we are a high-risk, high performance industry and all of us can be patients one day, and we would like to make sure everybody performs to the standard.”

Thousands die every year due to surgical negligence

The respected surgeon has developed an “O.R. black box” to help get to the bottom of potentially harmful errors made during operations.  A 2004 study on medical errors estimated that 9,200 to 23,000 Canadians die annually because of preventable “adverse events” in hospitals. The largest single source of mistakes identified by the researchers was surgery — accounting for 34% of the total. A study released in September 2013 estimated that more than 400,000 Americans dies each year due to preventable harm occurring in hospitals.

The equipment simultaneously records video and audio of what is happening both in the operating room and inside the patient’s body.  It creates a detailed electronic log of the treatment, whether the procedure was flawless or prone to surgical errors.The goal of the equipment is to encourage better work and identify when and why problems occur, so they can be prevented in the future.

Dr. Grantcharov’s system is part of a pilot study at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, where he works. He began using it in his own surgeries earlier this year and there are plans for surgeons in Denmark to start testing it as well. Dr. Grantcharov hopes to publish results of the study in a peer-reviewed medical journal next year.

Tool used to make aviation safer could help reduce surgery errors

Dr. Grantcharov says the “black box” concept emerged from his interest in aviation, an interest so strong that he reads accident investigation reports posted online by regulators.What struck Dr. Grantcharov is that, no matter how mysterious a crash may seem, investigators almost always determined the events leading to the accident and issue recommendations on how to prevent similar mishaps.

The black boxes introduced on airplanes in the 1960’s record both the voices in the cockpit and data sent over the plane’s electronic systems.  They play an invaluable role in reconstructing what went wrong.

“The pilots now will be familiar with what happened — everybody knows how to prevent this,” Dr. Grantcharovsays, “[But] if there is an event in the operating theatre, or an adverse outcome, nobody really deals with it.”

The equipment records the inside-the-belly view from the surgery camera, which produces the TV image that guides the surgeon during the operation, as well as the view from a ceiling-mounted camera that shows the entire operating room. Conversation in the room is also captured.The results can be viewed all on one computer screen, the two video images side-by-side, overlayed by the soundtrack.

Legal recourse for victims of surgical negligence in New York

If you or someone you love has suffered injuries resulting from surgery errors in New York, you may be entitled to monetary damages for your past and future medical expenses, lost income, pain, suffering and other intangible losses. To discuss your legal rights and options with a medical malpractice attorney, contact The Sanders Firm for a complimentary case evaluation. Our veteran team of attorneys can answer all your questions and help you outline your best course of action for securing compensation. Call toll-free 1.800.FAIR.PLAY.


  1. The Star, Operating room ‘black box’ invented by Toronto surgeon http://www.thestar.com/life/health

  2. National Post, Toronto doctor develops ‘O.R. black box’ to catch potentially deadly errors made during surgeries http://news.nationalpost.com/2013/09/27/toronto-doctor-develops-or-black-box-to-catch-potentially-deadly-errors-made-during-surgeries/