In the operating room, even the most routine surgery can take a sudden and very serious turn. The most critical cases may even be a matter of life and death. In that environment, distractions are more than annoying; they can lead to errors that could cause severe complications or even endanger the patient’s life.
What is causing distractions?
An OR can be a busy place, and many of the distractions are unavoidable; these might include equipment alarms or communication among the surgical team about the procedure they are performing. However, many distractions are from outside sources: external staff coming in the OR, computer use not associated with the procedures, cell phones, and smartphones.
Many operating rooms have music playing in the background, per the surgeon’s preference. Although it may be soothing or relaxing to some people, it can be distracting for others. How about the feel of the room itself? The OR is intentionally kept somewhat cool, but when it feels too cold, it can be distracting for medical personnel.
How widespread is the problem?
In one study, a surgeon and a behavioral scientist observed 90 general surgery cases in real time, using validated tools to measure workload and stress. 98% of the cases involved distractions. That is a compelling statistic that indicates that distractions in the operating room are a common occurrence. What if even a small percentage of those distractions resulted in errors?
Another study used simulated surgeries with general surgery residents to examine the issue. The results were statistically significant to support the hypothesis that realistic operating room distractions and interruptions increase the likelihood of errors in a simulated laboratory setting with novice surgeons.
What are the possible solutions?
It’s impossible to completely eliminate all distractions from the operating room; however, there are certain steps that can minimize them. One idea references the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulation regarding sterile cockpits for pilots: all members of the operating team should postpone nonessential conversation and activities until surgery is finished.
Distractions come in many forms, so it’s important to address this issue on many levels. Training programs for surgeons and OR personnel should incorporate distractions – and how to overcome them. Healthcare facilities should work to minimize noise transmitted into the OR. Finally, noise and distractions should be a consideration when choosing devices and instrumentation.
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