Very few of us have jobs in which there are no distractions. When distractions occur, they often impact our ability to perform our job effectively. According to a recent study, doctors are also not immune to the adverse impacts that distractions have on job performance. Specifically, the study found that distractions during surgery significantly increased the rate of surgical errors by residents.
As reported in the Archives of Surgery, participants of the study consisted of 18 general surgery residents from Oregon Health & Science University of Portland. Each of the 18 general surgery residents was required to perform a simulated laparoscopic cholecystectomy, which involves removing the gallbladder, with and without distractions. The commonly cited distractions used during surgery were expected movements seen by the observer, a ringing cell phone answered by the observer, conversations between the observer and a third party unrelated to surgery, noise from a dropped metal tray, and a question about a topic unrelated to the surgery.
Out of 18 surgeries, distracted residents made eight medical mistakes. Residents who were not distracted made only one surgical error out of 18 operations. The authors of the study concluded that realistic operating room distractions and interruptions greatly increased the likelihood of surgical mistakes--at least for novice surgeons. This study is important because it shows unnecessary distractions and interruptions significantly increase the rate of adverse patient outcomes and, by extension, the rate of avoidable medical malpractice lawsuits.
Of course, it is not realistic to expect that all distractions and interruptions during surgery can be prevented. However, steps can be taken to significantly reduce, if not eliminate, unnecessary distractions and interruptions in the OR. This is particularly true of chit chatting during surgery on matters that have nothing to do with the task at hand. Until these and other needless distractions are eliminated, there will continue to be avoidable medical mistakes that will cost lives and increase the number medical malpractice lawsuits.
MedPage Today, Distractions In OR Make Errors More Likely, July 20, 2012.