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Distracting communications in the operating theatre

Authors

  • Nick Sevdalis BSc MSc PhD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Lecturer in Patient Safety,
      Dr Nick Sevdalis
      Clinical Safety Research Unit
      Department of Bio-Surgery & Surgical Technology
      Imperial College London
      10th floor
      QEQM, St. Mary’s Hospital
      South Wharf Road
      London, W2 1NY
      UK
      E-mail: n.sevdalis@imperial.ac.uk
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  • Andrew N. Healey BSc (Hons) PhD Cpsychol,

    1. Research Associate,
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  • Charles A. Vincent BA MPhil PhD

    1. Professor of Clinical Safety Research, Department of Bio-Surgery & Surgical Technology, Imperial College London, London, UK
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Dr Nick Sevdalis
Clinical Safety Research Unit
Department of Bio-Surgery & Surgical Technology
Imperial College London
10th floor
QEQM, St. Mary’s Hospital
South Wharf Road
London, W2 1NY
UK
E-mail: n.sevdalis@imperial.ac.uk

Abstract

Rationale and aims  Research suggests that there are problems of communication effectiveness in surgery. Here we describe the content, initiators and recipients of communications that intrude or interfere with individual surgical cases. We also consider the level at which the surgical team and its team members are distracted by these case-irrelevant communications (CICs).

Methods  Two psychologist observers sampled 48 general surgery procedures and they recorded the initiator and the recipient of CIC events, their content and the level of observable distraction that they caused.

Results  Irrelevant comments and queries (i.e. ‘small-talk’) accounted for half of the observed CICs. From the remaining CICs that we observed, most were related to the organization and administration of the case-list, to operating theatre provisions and to teaching junior staff. Surgeons initiated a third of the observed CICs, while receiving two thirds of them. External staff visiting the operating theatre initiated the most distracting communications. The CICs addressed to surgeons introduced significantly less distraction to the operating theatre than those addressed to anaesthetists and nurses.

Conclusions  Some of the observed CICs contributed to the administration of the operating theatre case-list. Nonetheless, this communication can interfere with highly sensitive work. More effectively co-ordinated communication could reduce this interference. More research should assess the communication effectiveness and the impact of CICs on task performance in the operating theatre.

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