From Our 2012 Archives

Young Surgeons May Be Easily Distracted

TUESDAY, Dec. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Noises, questions and other disruptions in the operating room can cause young, inexperienced surgeons to make serious mistakes, according to a new, small study.

Researchers found that 44 percent of young surgeons aged 27 to 35 made a significant mistake when they were distracted during a simulated operation.

During critical moments of the procedure, a cell phone rang or a tray fell on the floor. But most errors occurred when the 18 young surgeons were asked questions about problems developing with another patient, the study found. As the surgeon addressed these questions, someone standing nearby would strike up a casual conversation about politics. These sidebar conversations were the second most common cause of the surgical mistakes.

The study, published Nov. 29 in the journal Archives of Surgery, also found that surgeons tested in the afternoon fared worse. The mistakes made were serious or potentially fatal, resulting in organ damage or injuries to ducts and arteries, they found.

"This research clearly shows that at least with younger surgeons, distractions in the operating room can hurt you," said the study's lead author, Robin Feuerbacher, assistant professor of energy systems engineering at Oregon State University, Cascades, in a university news release. "The problem appears significant, but it may be that we can develop better ways to address the concern and help train surgeons how to deal with distractions."

For the study, the researchers used a virtual reality simulator of a minimally invasive gall-bladder-removal operation, a procedure that requires much skill and concentration.

Although the study involved second-year, third-year and research-year surgical residents, the study's authors said older age and experience may not make surgeons immune to distractions, particularly when they are overworked or tired.

"We've presented these findings at a surgical conference and many experienced surgeons didn't seem too surprised by the results," noted Feuerbacher. "It appears working through interruptions is something you learn how to deal with, and in the beginning you might not deal with them very well."

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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SOURCE: Oregon State University, news release, Nov. 29, 2012