Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa are using an Operating Room Black Box (OR Black Box) to study whether improving teamwork and communication among operating room staff can make surgery safer for patients.  

“When I was a medical student we had lots of training in technical skills, like how to close an incision or insert a breathing tube. But there was less focus on soft skills like leadership, teamwork and communication,” said project lead Dr. Sylvain Boet, a scientist and anesthesiologist at The Ottawa Hospital and associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “Today medical staff receive more training in these areas, but we don’t know whether it’s making a difference to patient outcomes.”

Dr. Boet and his team have already studied the best ways to teach these skills during simulated scenarios. However, they did not have a way to measure whether these lessons were being applied in real-world operating rooms until now.

The research team partnered with Dr. Teodor Grantcharov and his team at St. Michael’s Hospital to implement an OR Black Box in one of the operating rooms at The Ottawa Hospital’s general campus. This platform captures audio, video, patient vital signs and other information from the operating room environment.

This information will be used to identify trends in teamwork and communication, which the researchers will link to how well patients did after surgery. Information captured by the OR Black Box will be used for research purposes only, and faces and voices will be altered to protect privacy.

“Healthcare providers are always looking for ways to make surgery safer and more efficient,” said Dr. Nicole Etherington, member of the research team and clinical research associate at The Ottawa Hospital. “This project gives us a unique opportunity to study how our operating room teams work together, to better understand what they are doing well and identify possible ways that they can improve.”

Understanding that surgery is already a stressful experience for patients, Dr. Boet’s team worked with patient advisors Maxime Lê and Laurie Proulx to find the best way to explain to people why information from their surgery might be captured. Patients are told about the OR Black Box before their surgery, and can choose to opt out at any time.

The Ottawa Hospital is the fourth hospital in Canada to implement the OR Black Box, and the first one outside of the Toronto area.