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Distractions in Operating Room Lead to Increased Errors

A study of what goes on in the operating room during common surgical procedures reveals that a variety of frequent distractions can cause doctors—especially younger less experienced surgeons—to make significant errors that can put patient’s lives and health at risk amounting to medical malpractice.

Among the newer surgeons, fresh out of medical school or relatively recent graduates—those between the ages of 27 and 35, around 44 percent of them were found to be making such mistakes when distracted by questions, noise or a number of other distractions purposely interposed during an operation simulation. What researchers did was have a phone ring at a critical moment, or have another member of the operating room drop a tray or medical instrument. Researchers found that having another person in the operating room ask the doctor a question about some other patient resulted in the highest number of errors.

Such incidents are commonplace, and possibly impossible to entirely avoid in the operating room. One thing that also tends to occur is that others in the operating room, when a doctor is distracted from the task at hand by a question, may interpret the momentary loss of focus and concentration as a signal to essentially take an unscheduled break and engage in side chatter about their upcoming social plans or a recent television program, causing yet more distraction for the surgeon.

It may be of interest to those facing the prospect of surgery to be aware that the study also revealed that a larger number of distracted surgical errors occurred in afternoon surgery, with the malpractice committed then more frequently of the type that causes injuries to arteries and ducts, damage to vital organs, or risks of death.

The study was summarized in a recent article in the peer-reviewed medical journal Archives of Surgery. It details how researchers determined to study the impact of distractions in the operating room created a “virtual reality” simulation of an operation to remove a patient’s gall bladder, a procedure fraught with danger if the surgeon does not approach the task with care and focus.

It is by no means the case that older doctors performing surgery are totally immune from the possibility of making dangerous mistakes when distracted in the operating room. But many of them have better learned through experience how to deal with distractions without harming a patient in a serious manner. The study primarily involved an examination of surgical residents in their second or third year of residency or those in the midst of an additional year of residency focused on research.

When a surgical conference heard a presentation on the research results, few of the seasoned surgeons present found the results at all startling. It is hoped, however, that by making both younger and more experienced surgeons more consciously aware of the potential consequences of distractions in the operating room, they can be more on guard about their reactions. Other medical personnel in the operating room such as nurses, assistants and anesthesiologists, will hopefully also come to realize that turning off cell phones and avoiding extraneous chit-chat during surgery can help save lives.

Original URL: http://www.ivillage.com/young-surgeons-may-be-easily-distracted/4-a-506724