Politics & Government

Calls for recording surgeries ignored in NC

Much remains unknown about the 2008 surgery that left Shelly Skalicky without sensation in her body.

One of the mysteries is a scar at the top of her shoulders expected to be 2 inches long but which measures 10 inches, said Skalicky’s husband, Danny Long. After digging through medical records and doctors’ notes, he doesn’t know who was in charge during the operation. The surgeons’ reports don’t match, he said.

Long, who lives in Chatham County outside Carrboro, wants the state to require that hospitals make video recordings of surgeries, so that patients can know what happens in operating rooms.

“Like it or not, we all behave better when we know we’re being watched,” he said.

Legislators in a handful of states, including Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin, have introduced bills allowing or requiring videotaping of surgery. Hospitals and doctors oppose such bills, and so far, none have passed.

But the issue of taping surgeries is a hot topic of discussion among doctors and lawyers.

A surgeon in Canada used a “black box” with cameras and microphones to find where errors most commonly occur during gastric bypasses. Dr. Martin A. Makary, a surgeon and associate professor of surgery and health policy and management at Johns Hopkins University medical school, wrote in the British Medical Journal last month on the promise of operating room recordings as a means of improving quality and accountability.

A Wisconsin man, Wade Ayer, is pushing a bill for videotaping operations in his home state, and has begun advocating for a law in North Carolina. Ayer’s sister died in 2003 after she was given an overdose of anesthesia during a cosmetic surgery in Florida.

Wisconsin’s medical society and its hospital association, along with four other medical-related groups, are against the bill. No entity with a lobbyist has registered its support, according to a state database where lobbying entities must report their support for or opposition to legislation.

A bill introduced in Massachusetts in 2011 by a legislator who is now Boston’s mayor would have allowed video recording at the patient’s expense. It did not pass.

Ayer said audio and video recordings would break “the wall of secrecy” patients face when trying to find facts behind failed medical procedures.

He started the National Organization for Medical Malpractice Victims Facebook group. He emailed North Carolina legislators about filing a bill on surgical black boxes, but received no response.

Recordings could be a valuable training tool and help patients know what happened during their surgeries, said Lisa McGiffert, director of the Consumers Union Safe Patient Project. Long has worked with the safety project, though operating room recording is not one of its issues.

The patient project is working in other areas, such as antibiotic resistant bacteria and infections, McGiffert said.

So far, North Carolina is watching the legislative action, or inaction, from a distance.

“As an industry, hospitals are focused on improving quality and outcomes for our patients,” said N.C. Hospital Association spokeswoman Julie Henry. “Any tools that provide information to promote a culture of patient safety or allow hospital staff to learn how to operate more efficiently and effectively are worth considering, as long as they are used in a constructive, rather than punitive way.”

Lynn Bonner: 919-829-4821, @Lynn_Bonner