Push for surgery black box
Keeping a record: Health consumers group pushes for surgery black box. Picture: Michael O'Brien/The West Australian

Operating theatres should have "black box" voice recorders to improve patient safety, according to WA's peak health consumer group.

The Health Consumers' Council said recording the conversations of surgeons and nurses during surgery could independently verify what happened if there were complications or a dispute over events.

Executive director Frank Prokop said while he expected resistance from doctors, audio recordings were proposed not to point the finger of blame but as a way to better protect patients, while allowing ongoing education for hospital staff.

"It's about learning, not blaming, and creating more transparency that would reassure pat-ients," he said. "It could provide clear empirical evidence that nothing untoward happened and avoid claims of a cover-up.

"If used routinely, just like black box recorders in airlines, it would greatly alleviate a common source of complaint by patients."

The council also proposes recording consultations in some cases where people face involuntary admission to a mental health unit. "Such a serious decision, where a patient's civil rights can be overturned, should have the highest possible standards applied to it," Mr Prokop said.

"Also people might be very unwell at the time and not in a good place to judge what's happening but when they come to their rational self, psychiatrists can find it hard to justify what happened."

The WA Health Department would not say yesterday whether it supported the proposal, but Mr Prokop said his preliminary talks with the department were encouraging.

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons said the concept had been raised in the past but would need broad consultation with surgeons, nurses, anaesthetists, theatre staff, hospital administration and government authorities. A big hurdle would be the cost of setting up and running such a system.

Australian Medical Association WA vice-president Michael Gannon said it was unworkable because doctors would need to record all their consultations with patients.

"We are already too litigious as a society and having recordings available would create a whole new area of law and irrevocably change the relationship between doctors and patients," Dr Gannon said.

"The very small benefits would be swamped by the risk of patient confidentiality being compromised and by the inevitable leak of information."

The West Australian

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