Recording devices such as a ‘virtual chaperone’ for clinicians have been developed in Imperial College, London in the hope that they will improve the accountability of health services and also protect staff should something go wrong.

The chaperone project, led and patented by Professor Sir Ara Darzi, Clinical Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College, was tested in St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington, London. According to The Economist, in a trial in the plastic surgery department of Charing Cross Hospital, Hammersmith, London, the system was approved by 96% of patients.

The device, which is manufactured by Synaptiq, consists of a discreet camera and microphone in the corner of the room. It records and encodes data onto DVD, which can then be unlocked by both patient and clinician with a ‘key’ inserted into the USB port of a computer with a compatible drive.

According to a paper written in the Student BMJ by one of the researchers on the project, the device could “free up hours of staff time in situations where a chaperone is needed and help protect staff from abuse and misunderstandings in situations when they have to work on their own."

Another system, a ‘black box’, could be used to record clinical data in operating theatres. The research team has set up a ‘virtual theatre’ in St Mary’s Hospital, using a dummy as a patient, equipped with surveillance technology that records details such as hand movements, physiological data and other potentially useful information.

“Many clinicians are wary of ‘big brother’ systems and ask, ‘Why do we need to record all this data?'”, say researchers in the paper. “But healthcare professionals are working in an increasingly litigious environment… Clinical monitoring is clearly needed because most errors are avoidable."

Professor Sir Ara Darzi, who joined Imperial College in 1995, also helped to develop the da Vinci surgery robot, which incorporates a robot arm that surgeons can control with a joystick. It is designed to cope best with delicate operations, and can be used remotely.