Last year, The American Journal of Surgery published a study that analyzed whether sleep-deprivation would affect medical students or not when the students performed new tasks and tasks that they were already familiar with performing. Researchers concluded that the students had to use more energy in order to perform new tasks well when they were deprived of sleep compared to when they had enough rest.
In 2009, a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that patients were more likely to suffer complications during surgery when their surgeons had less than six hours of sleep the night before the operation.
Anyone is capable of making a mistake when they are tired, and according to these studies, even highly trained doctors may make mistakes in the operating room when they are tired and distracted by their fatigue. However, fatigue is not the only distraction in the operating room that may affect surgeons’ performance here in Chicago and across the country. According to a study that was published this month, noise in the operating room — even hospital equipment noise — may distract surgeons and cause doctors to make surgical errors.
The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, and it was published in this month’s issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons. For the study, researchers analyzed 15 surgeons’ abilities to pay attention to surgical tasks while trying to focus on what others were saying in the operating room with different noises going on in the background.
Researchers tested the surgeons’ abilities to hear and repeat words with different noises in the operating room. Noise and noise levels ranged from quiet, to noise filtered through surgical masks, to music playing in the background. Researchers reported that surgeons had a somewhat challenging time repeating the words they heard when there was some noise in the background and when the words were unpredictable. Researchers also reported that surgeons had an even more challenging time comprehending and repeating what they heard when there was music playing in the operating room while performing surgery.
Now, these studies do not mean that patients will become victims of medical malpractice if their surgeons get five hours of sleep before surgery or if surgeons like to listen to classical music while performing operations; however, these studies do show that when surgeons are distracted, they may be more susceptible to making a mistake they normally would not make when operating on patients.
When operating on patients, surgeons must acknowledge that when they allow themselves to become distracted, they may be allowing themselves to make serious or fatal mistakes.
Source: Scripps Howard News Service, “Distractions increase surgeons’ potential for mistakes,” Lee Bowman, May 15, 2013