-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
WEDNESDAY, May 15 (HealthDay News) -- Background noise in the
operating room -- such as the sounds of surgical equipment, chatter
or music -- can affect surgeons' ability to understand what is
being said to them and might result in a breakdown of communication
among surgical team members, according to a new study.
This is particularly worrisome since miscommunication is cited
as a common reason for medical errors that could have been
prevented, the study authors said. Surgeons have critical
conversations during operations, and information on medications,
dosing and blood supply could sound similar. The researchers
emphasize that clear communication during surgical procedures is
essential to ensure the safety of patients.
The study was published in the May issue of the
Journal of the American College of Surgeons.
"The operating room is a very fast-paced, high-demand, all-senses-running-on-all-cylinders type of environment," study co-author Dr. Matthew Bush, an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, in Lexington, said in a journal news release. "To minimize errors of communication, it is essential that we consider very carefully the listening environment we are promoting in the operating room."
The researchers gave an example of a possible miscommunication:
A request for heparin might be heard as "Hespan," an entirely
In conducting the study, the researchers simulated a noise
environment similar to the noise levels found in an operating room.
Fifteen surgeons with between one and 30 years of experience were
tested on their ability to understand and repeat words under four
different conditions: quiet, noise filtered through a surgical
mask, background noise without music and background noise with
The surgeons were tested while performing a specific surgical
task as well as when they were not engaged in a task.
Noise interfered with the surgeon's speech comprehension when
the words spoken to them were unpredictable, the study showed. This
interference with speech comprehension was worse when there was
noise in the operating room.
Background music also impaired the surgeons' ability to
understand what was said to them while they were performing a
The researchers concluded that background noise in operating
rooms could impair surgeons' ability to process what they hear,
particularly when music is being played. The situation becomes even
more problematic when surgical teams are trying to communicate
critical and unpredictable information.
"Our main goal is to increase awareness that operating room noise does affect communication and that we should foster the best environment in which we can communicate better," Bush said. "This effort means that the surgical team needs to work diligently to create the safest environment possible, and that step may mean either turning the music off or down, or limiting background conversations or other things in the environment that could lead to communication errors and medical mistakes."
The researchers plan to continue their research on a larger
scale and also examine the effects of operating room noise on
anesthesiologists, nurses and surgeons who are hearing
"I think it's important to demonstrate the effect of environmental operating noise on communication on a variety of different players in the operating room setting," Bush said. "Another step from here is to not only see how noise affects our understanding of speech, but how it affects our tasks and how it affects our ability to perform surgical procedures efficiently and effectively."
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more about
operating room distractions.
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