Examining operating room distractions leading to surgical errors


Going in for surgery is quite different than going in for other medical procedures for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most notable difference is that during many surgeries, the patient is unconscious and cannot participate in or observe his own medical care.

Most surgical teams continue to act professionally once the patient has gone under. But in other cases, this lack of patient oversight encourages some doctors and nurses to engage in casual conversation and other distracted behaviors that can lead to surgical errors.

Concentration is already difficult enough during surgery because equipment in the room can be noisy. But many surgeons choose to operate while listening to music, and may even get drawn into unrelated conversations with surgical assistants and others in the room. There have even been reports of cellphones ringing and being answered in some operating rooms.

Researchers in one study recently tested 15 surgeons to see how distractions affected their ability to understand and repeat words. They were tested under a variety of noise levels and conditions. Researchers found that when surgeons were engaged in a surgical task, music was a significant barrier to the comprehension of speech. And when the words being spoken were unpredictable, background noise also affected speech comprehension.

Other studies have also shown that surgeons are more prone to make mistakes in a distracting environment. So the question is: why do hospitals allow operating rooms to have unnecessary distractions in them? Are music, casual conversation,  cellphone access and other creature comforts really more important than patient safety?

Source: NewsNet5.com, “From ringing phones to sleep deprivation: Distractions increase surgeons’ potential for mistakes,” Lee Bowman, May 15, 2013

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