Medical errors cause between 250,000 and 440,000 deaths each year in the United States with many of those occurring in Georgia. Countless others are injured. Many of those errors occur in the operating room as surgeons are 66% more likely to commit a medical error when stressed.
Study indicates how short-term stress affects surgical accuracy
Results of a recent study conducted by Columbia University suggest that even intervals of short-term stress triggered by a negative thought or a noise in the operating room can cause medical errors, some of which can lead to medical malpractice. These mistakes can lead to bleeding, torn tissue or even burns. The study used a Hexoskin Smart Shirt, which has a more common use among athletes, to produce performance data under the scrubs of working surgeons. The smart shirt measured surgeon stress levels via recorded heartbeats while laparoscopic video recordings also documented errors. Both heart rate increases and mistakes, even minor ones, were time-stamped, showing the stress correlation.
New protocol could help reduce surgeon stress
As a result of the Columbia study, researchers at Loyola University Medicine have started to develop a curriculum for physicians in training to improve emotional intelligence and avoid burnout. Learning about emotional intelligence can also improve stress management skills and possibly reduce surgical errors.
Operating rooms have a surprising number of distractions that can place undue stress on surgeons. Alarms go off periodically for various reasons, equipment can malfunction at unexpected times, side conversations occur, and personnel may walk in and out, all leading to an undue number of distractions. If an attending surgeon is distracted by such events, others could be named in medical malpractice lawsuits. It’s up to universities and hospital administrators to find ways to reduce stress and, with it, medical errors.