Researchers use leading-edge technology to study teamwork and communication in the operating room

The Ottawa Hospital fourth centre in Canada to install an OR Black Box®

February 15, 2019

The OR Black Box captures audio, video, patient vital signs and other information from the OR during surgery.Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa are studying whether improving teamwork and communication among operating room staff can make surgery safer for patients. Studies suggest that over half of surgery complications can be linked to problems with these “soft skills” during operations.

“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 Operating Room 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.

“Health-care 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.”

Dr. Sylvain BoetDr. Sylvain BoetUnderstanding 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.

“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 implement the OR Black Box®, and the first one outside of 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.

Funding: 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.

Team members and collaborators: Sylvain Boet, Nicole Etherington, Sandy Lam, Antoine Przybylak-Brouillard, Joseph Burns, Andrea Patey, Christopher Pysyk, Claudia Hampel, Glenn Posner, Greg Bryson, Innie Chen, Isabelle Raiche, Jamie Brehaut, Jeremy Grimshaw, Julie Kenna, Justin Presseau, Karine Lortie, Louise Sun, Mark Walker, Maxime Lê, Laurie Proulx, Martin Cairns, Meghan Britton, Meghan McConnell, Michael Szeto, Monica Taljaard, Patrick Wong, Paula Doering, Simon Kitto, Sony Singh, Wesley Edwards, Zarah Monfaredi, Tracey Adams, Justine Baron, Arija Birze, Lisa Calder, Melissa Duffy, Teodor Grantcharov, Claudia Hampel, Chantal Menard, Claudia Smith.

About The Ottawa Hospital: Inspired by research. Driven by compassion. 

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care. See for more information about research at The Ottawa Hospital.

About the University of Ottawa: —A crossroads of cultures and ideas

The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada’s top 10 research universities—our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today’s challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe.

Media Contact

Amelia Buchanan
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Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
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