Operating room pressures: surgeons under stress make more mistakes

Operating room pressures: surgeons under stress make more mistakes
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New study finds that surgeons under stress make up to 66% more mistakes on patients in the operating room.

Using a technology that captured the electrical activity of a surgeon’s heart, researchers found that during intervals of short-term stress, which can be triggered by a negative thought or a loud noise in the operating room, surgeons under stress are much more prone to make mistakes in the operating room that can cause bleeding, torn tissue or burns.

The unknown impact of surgeons under stress

Medical errors cause between 250,000-440,000 deaths annually in the U.S. alone, with a proportion of those mistakes occurring in operating rooms.

This is a growing issue suggesting that the mental health of surgeons have a serious impact when conducting surgical procedures.

It’s time to explore whether change in common practice, that reduces the number mistakes made by surgeons under stress, could reduce the number deaths.

Measuring the stress of surgeons

This study led by Peter Dupont Grantcharov, a master’s student at the Data Science Institute at Columbia University, USA had the idea to monitor stress levels by using a Hexoskin Smart Shirt under the scrubs of surgeons as surgeries were conducted.

The shirt, designed to give athletes precise physiological data during workouts, measures the electrical impulses that trigger heartbeats.

From this data, Grantcharov derived heart-rate variability statistics that showed the variation in times between heartbeats, to determine the momentary stress levels in surgeons.

Distractions in the operating room

“I was surprised by that, as well as by the amount of distractions in the operating room,” says Grantcharov.

“Many machines have alarms that go off periodically, equipment malfunctions, side conversations take place, people walk in and out of the OR – I could go on.

“My hope is that other researchers will build upon our work to make further strides in learning about the causes of stress on surgical personnel. If our study helps make the OR a safer place for patients, I’d be thrilled.”

The results of the study, could lead to the development of specific protocol aiming to reduce acute or short-term stress on surgeons working in the operating room.


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