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Study finds that young distracted surgeons are error-prone

It is something nobody in Michigan wants to think about when they go into surgery--what if something goes wrong?

Unfortunately, there are cases when errors do occur during surgery. Sometimes surgeons leave an item inside the body, for example, and in other fairly rare cases surgeons have even operated on the wrong body parts. A new study suggests that surgical errors are often attributed to distraction in the operating room, and that young surgeons may be too easily distracted.

The study that was published late last month in the journal "Archives of Surgery" found that 44 percent of young surgeons between the ages of 27 and 35 made significant and potentially fatal mistakes when they were distracted.

Researchers studied 18 second-year, third-year and research-year surgical residents as they used a simulator to perform a staged gall-bladder removal operation. Throughout the procedure they were exposed to distractions such as ringing cellphones, trays falling to the floor, side conversations and questions regarding other patients.

The most distracting item seemed to be questions about another patient, according to the researchers. Side conversations going on within the operating room were the second most frequent cause of surgical errors.

Surgeons who were tested in the afternoon rather than the morning also reportedly made more mistakes.

The study's lead author said she thought that the findings are significant and that it will now be important to train surgeons on how to better deal with distractions.

Of course, it might surprise many Michigan residents that cellphones are ringing in operating rooms and surgical staff are engaged in conversations about politics or weekend plans during surgery. While some distractions, such as an urgent question about another patient or a sudden noise, may be unavoidable, certainly some of these could be cut out. However, as the lead author stated, surgeons should perhaps be better trained to focus on the task at hand even when distractions exist in order to prevent surgical errors.

Source: WMBFnews.com, "Young surgeons may be easily distracted," Dec. 5, 2012

  • Our personal injury law firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan, handles medical malpractice cases, helping victims of surgical errors and other types of malpractice obtain compensation for their injuries.

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