Surgeons and patients are not thinking about fires when they enter a hospital operating room. There are so many things that take priority at that moment. For the patient, this is an opportunity to improve their quality of life. For a surgeon, this is what they are trained to do. Too often, unfortunately, they are not trained to prevent an operating room fire.
Fires in the operating are considered rare*(between 500-600/year) but they are devastating for patients. Unfortunately for victims, these are catastrophes that could be avoided. All it would take is proper training for surgeons and anesthesiologists; and a commitment to communicating proper procedures as a surgical team.
We want our surgeons to be very good at what they do, we want them to be specialists in their fields. They are not, however, specialists in fire prevention. They usually don’t have the knowledge of what is a fire risk in the operating room and worse what to do if a fire occurs.
A recent study in Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that better communication in the operating room between nurses staff and surgeons, coupled with better data collection, including near misses, would go a long way to prevent and eliminate the risk of surgical fires.
Surgeons have a lot on their minds. They should always be focused on the task at hand. Hospitals need to do their part to make sure it is easy for surgical teams to protect their patients. They need to provide clear instructions, guidelines, and even checklists that surgeons can refer to. So that if a fire occurs they can act rather than try to guess about what to do.
Journal of American Medical Association, “Wrong-Site Surgery, Retained Surgical Items, and Surgical Fires” Susanne Hempel Ph.D., et al, August 2015