Study Shows Surgical Errors Tied to Distractions in Operating Room

A recent study shows that distractions and interruptions in the operating room cause surgical errors.

The study was conducted by researchers at Oregon State University-Cascades and involved 18 general surgery residents from Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. Each participant performed a simulated laparoscopic cholecystectomy – removal of the gall bladder – with and without distractions and interruptions.

Distractions in the Operating Room

Previous similar studies introduced distractions that aren’t typically faced by surgeons, such as math problems or faulty equipment, according to the study’s authors. Based on their nine months of observation in actual surgeries, the authors of this study came up with the following distractions that do typically occur in the OR:

• A cell phone that rings and is answered by an observer

• A conversation, unrelated to the surgery, between an observer and someone else

• A dropped metal tray

• Unexpected movement by an observer

• A question to the surgeon about a problem with a recovering patient

• A question to the surgeon about the surgeon’s career choice

All of these distractions were introduced at points in the procedure that required key decision-making by the surgeons.

Surgical Errors from Operating Room Distractions

The residents in this study made major surgical errors in eight out of the 18 simulated surgeries that introduced distractions. Only one major error was made during the 18 procedures that did not have any distractions. And, more than 50 percent of the participating surgical residents forgot a key memory task related to the surgery when they were interrupted, versus only 22 percent during the surgeries that were distraction-free.

Robin L. Feuerbacher, one of the study’s authors, concluded, “”This study provided statistically significant evidence to support the hypothesis that realistic operating-room (OR) distractions and interruptions increase the likelihood of errors in a simulated laboratory setting with novice surgeons.”

There can be any number of reasons that cause a surgical error or any other type of medical malpractice. But hospitals and physicians are careful to keep the causes under wraps. So it is important that victims of surgical errors turned to experienced attorneys who know how to thoroughly investigate medical malpractice issues.