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Is Noise Affecting the Safety of Health Care?

distractions in healthcare

A recent position paper calls out surgical practitioners and technology for contributing to distractions in surgical settings.

Distraction is a part of modern medical care.  Nursing staff are routinely overwhelmed with thousands of alarms per shift.  During a surgical procedure, noise and distraction increase the likelihood that a surgical error or never event could occur.

In the position paper published in the Aorn Journal, a publication on Perioperative Nursing, the authors describe what could be going on in the operating room where you are hoping your surgical team is paying the utmost attention to your surgery.  It might be something like this:

  • Routine noise is emitted by monitors, necessary equipment, and alarms relative to patient care
  • Members of the surgical team could be inattentive due to cell phone calls, texting, pagers, and communication from staff outside of the operating room
  • The paper reports approximately 55 percent of perfusionists who responded (specialists who operate heart-lung bypass machines during cardiac surgery) reported using cell phones during a procedure, while almost 50 percent noted they had sent a text message during a surgical event
  • Other types of electronic activities that occur within the OR setting include social media messaging, Internet searches, and gaming

It is not a stretch to assume that the distraction of a surgical team member creates a gap in the process intended to secure a healthy outcome for the patient on the table.  In addition to impacting the ability of a surgical team to communicate, distractions and noise increase the possibility of wrong site surgery and the likelihood of complications.

The paper does not suggest surgical teams are irresponsible, but proposes respect for the amount of noise and interruptive activities in a normal surgical setting.  The perioperative setting, when surgery takes place, is one of critical care, requiring focused attention and precise skills.  Add unnecessary electronic devices and personal activities to a setting wherein the long-term health or survival of a patient is at stake and the possibility of an error increases.

At a minimum, the authors suggest defining the phases of surgery where minimal interruption and maximum attention are required.  Referred to as a “zone of silence,” “sterile cockpit,” or “red zone,” these phases require the full attention of the surgical team member.  These could occur during time-outs, surgical counts, procedures around anesthesia, and at other times.

Unfortunately, the patient is not always the focus of full attention in surgical settings.  If you, or a loved one, is injured during a surgical procedure—speak with an experienced injury attorney at our office.

Experienced medical malpractice attorneys serving Washington, DC and Maryland

With more than 35 years of successfully taking on physicians and healthcare institutions on behalf of injured patients, our legal team at Schochor, Federico and Staton, P.A. provides unsurpassed legal representation and advice. Contact us today or call us at 410-234-1000 to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

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