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Background

Communication is extremely important to ensure safe and effective clinical practice. A systematic literature review of observational studies addressing communication in the operating theatre was conducted. The focus was on observational studies alone in order to gain an understanding of actual communication practices, rather than what was reported through recollections and interviews.

Methods

A systematic review of the literature for accessible published and grey literature was performed in July 2012. The following information was extracted: year, country, objectives, methods, study design, sample size, healthcare professional focus and main findings. Quality appraisal was conducted using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme. A meta-ethnographic approach was used to categorize further the main findings under key concepts.

Results

Some 1174 citations were retrieved through an electronic database search, reference lists and known literature. Of these, 26 were included for review after application of full-text inclusion and exclusion criteria. The overall quality of the studies was rated as average to good, with 77 per cent of the methodological quality assessment criteria being met. Six key concepts were identified: signs of effective communication, signs of communication problems, effects on teamwork, conditions for communication, effects on patient safety and understanding collaborative work.

Conclusion

Communication was shown to affect operating theatre practices in all of the studies reviewed. Further detailed observational research is needed to gain a better understanding of how to improve the working environment and patient safety in theatre.