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Could better teamwork and communications in the operating room make surgery safer for patients?

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Staff working in OR3 at the General Campus

Staff working in OR3 at the General Campus, where the OR Black Box was installed, are helping researchers study the effects of ‘soft skills’ such as leadership, communications and teamwork.

Technical skills are clearly part of a successful surgery, but what about ‘soft skills’ like leadership, communications and teamwork?

Dr. Sylvain Boet and his research team at The Ottawa Hospital are studying whether improving these soft skills among operating room staff can make surgery safer for patients.

“It’s exciting to be part of something that could be such a breakthrough in health care.”

Dr. Boet and his team have already studied the best ways to teach soft 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 in Toronto to install an Operating Room Black Box® in OR3 at The Ottawa Hospital’s General Campus last summer. The platform captures audio, video, patient vital signs and other information from the OR during surgery.

Dr. Sylvain Boet
Dr. Sylvain Boet’s research team brought the OR Black Box to The Ottawa Hospital.

“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 Dr. 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 in patient outcomes.”

Studies suggest that many surgical complications can be linked to problems with soft skills.

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

“By studying teamwork and communication, we can develop best practices that improve patient care, not only in Ottawa but around the world.”

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 their surgery might be recorded and how it might help improve care for future patients. Patients are told about the black box before their surgery and can choose to opt out at any time.

Patient advisor Maxime Lê
Patient advisor Maxime Lê helped the research team determine the best way to explain the OR Black Box project to patients before their surgery.

“Personally, I wouldn’t have any problem with my surgery being recorded, because I know there are many safeguards in place to protect my personal information,” said Lê. “The more I get involved in this project, the more I am confident that it’s a good idea. It’s exciting to be part of something that could be such a breakthrough in health care.”

The Ottawa Hospital is the fourth hospital in Canada to install the black box, and the first one outside the Toronto area.

“By studying teamwork and communication, we can develop best practices that improve patient care, not only in Ottawa but around the world,” said Dr. Boet.

Patient advisor Maxime Lê
The OR Black Box captures audio, video, patient vital signs and other information from the OR during surgery.

The researchers received support from The Ottawa Hospital Academic Medical Organization, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine, the Department of Surgery and the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

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