Operating Room Noise Could Hamper Surgical Team Communications

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports — Your Universe Online

Having noisy surgical equipment, background music or even chatty co-workers in the operating room could impair a surgical team´s ability to communicate, which in turn could have a disruptive effect on a doctor´s ability to receive and/or process instructions, according to a new study.

Research led by University of Kentucky Medical Center assistant professor Matthew Bush and published in the May edition of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons reveals high levels of ambient background noise is a patient and surgical safety issue that could impact auditory processing among surgeons and other OR team members.

“The operating room is a very fast-paced, high-demand, all senses running on all cylinders type of environment,” Bush explained Friday in a statement. “To minimize errors of communication, it is essential that we consider very carefully the listening environment we are promoting in the OR.”

To test the potential impact of background noise on operating room communication, Bush and his colleagues set-up a simulated noise environment similar to an OR. They then recruited 15 surgeons with between one and 30 years of professional experience, and tested their ability to understand and repeat words under four different typical OR environment conditions — quiet, filtered noise through a surgical mask and background noise both with and without music. Each subject was tested in two situations: engaged in a specific surgical task and task free.

They found a significant decrease in speech comprehension levels when background noise was present and the words being conveyed to them were unpredictable. Furthermore, the researchers reported surgeons demonstrated far worse speech comprehension levels when music was present than they did in either a quiet environment or one in which only typical OR noise was present.

However, music was said to hamper a subject´s comprehension only when he or she was actively engaged in a task. As a result, Bush and his colleagues have determined OR noise can result in a decrease in auditory processing ability, especially when ambient music is present. In addition, they said understanding what other OR team members are saying becomes more difficult in situations when conversations include essential information that is unpredictable in nature.

“Currently, miscommunication is one of the most frequently cited causes of preventable medical errors. For this reason, there is a growing interest in identifying overlooked variables that can lead to communication breakdowns among health care professionals,” the researchers explained. “Therefore, these study results have important implications in the real world because surgical teams carry on critical conversations during surgical procedures that often include discussions about medications and dosing as well as the blood supply that should be on hand.”

“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,” added Bush. “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.”

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