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Study Shows Distractions Cause Increase in Surgical Errors

No matter what the procedure, facing surgery can be a stressful experience. Indeed, for many patients, success in the operating room can mean the difference between life and death. For this reason, it is natural to assume that surgeons would maintain their focus and take steps to prevent distractions while performing operations. A recent study, however, indicates that distractions are more of a problem during surgery than many would imagine.

The Effect of Interruptions on Surgery

According to a study published recently in the Archives of Surgery, residents performing simulated procedures made errors eight out of 18 times with distractions, compared to only one out of 18 without distractions. Additionally, more than half of the residents forgot a key memory task during surgery when they were distracted. Only 22 percent forgot the task when faced with no interruptions.

There are a variety of distractions residents encounter during the simulations. In previous studies, some were required to deal with poor conditions, such as faulty equipment, while others faced abnormal interruptions, such as performing mental arithmetic.

The Archives of Surgery study introduced distractions such as ringing cell phones, unexpected movement by others, and outside conversations. Interruptions that required action on the resident’s part were also used. The resident was questioned on topics ranging from another recovering patient to their career choice.

Physician Fatigue Also a Factor

Fatigue was also an important consideration in the study. Interestingly, all eight of the errors that occurred under the distracting conditions happened after 1 p.m. The authors note that the residents seemed to be able to perform effectively with the interruptions during morning hours, but were less able to do so as the day wore on.

The results of the study confirm that realistic operating room distractions are likely to cause harm to patients and produce negative surgical outcomes. However, the authors point out that the results should not be exaggerated. They note that distractions during the simulations are designed to arise only at significant points of the surgery. They also occurred more frequently than in actual operating rooms.

However, operating room distractions must still be taken seriously. In a surgical environment, everyone works as a team. If one member of the team becomes distracted, the entire team is affected. This is when abnormal errors usually occur.

Preventable medical errors are a leading cause of death and injury. A person injured from surgical negligence may potentially have several available legal remedies. An experienced medical malpractice attorney can provide guidance and assist with obtaining any available compensation.

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