We have all heard about the dangers of distracted driving. But distraction isn’t only a threat on our nation’s roads. According to a recent study, distraction is also a major cause of surgical errors made by young or less-experienced surgeons in operating rooms.
The study used a “simulated” gall bladder removal operation to find that less-experienced surgeons make major surgical mistakes almost half of the time when distracted by noises, questions, conversation or other upheaval in the operating room.
Eighteen second-, third- and research-year surgical residents took part in the study, which was published in Archives of Surgery. Researchers discovered that eight surgeons made serious errors when they were distracted, and the errors were particularly rampant in the afternoons.
When there were no distractions tempting the surgeons, only one made a serious error. The serious errors included things such as damage to internal organs, ducts and arteries, which can prove fatal. Researchers aren’t sure why there were more errors in the afternoons, as fatigue did not appear to be an issue.
The researchers found that distractions did not appear to have the same effect on more experienced surgeons. Although, when other factors such as fatigue are involved, any surgeon can fall victim to human error, the researchers concluded.
The lead author of the study said he hopes the findings will lead to additional research on better ways to train surgeons on how to deal with distractions.
While we accept that surgeons are human and are therefore not immune to mistakes, we hold surgeons to a heightened standard of care because their jobs are so important. When surgeons breach this standard of care and patients are injured or killed, surgeons can be held responsible in medical malpractice lawsuits.
Source: Science Blog, “Young surgeons prone to error when distracted in OR,” Nov. 29, 2012