Reduce noise to improve OR communication, prevent errors

Countless research has shown background noise in hospitals can disturb and interfere with healing. A noisy environment also poses a hazard to surgeons: A new study in this month's issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found background noise in the operating room, such as loud surgical tools, talkative team members or music, can significantly impair communication among the surgical team.

After testing 15 surgeons with one to 30 years of operating experience, researchers learned OR noise can decrease auditory processing, especially when music is playing.

In the presence of background noise, surgeons' speech comprehension worsens when discussions include important details that are unpredictable, such as medications and dosing or the blood supply that should be on hand, according to the study. Clear communication is vital as mishearing a request for the drug heparin as Hespan could cause a medical mistake.

"Our main goal is to increase awareness that operating room noise does affect communication and that we should foster the best environment in which we can communicate better," study coauthor Matthew Bush, M.D., assistant professor of surgery at the University of Kentucky Medical Center said Friday in a statement.

To prevent communication breakdowns and medical mistakes, the authors recommend turning music off or lowering the volume, or limiting background conversations.

The findings build upon previous research about the importance of an OR environment that fosters good communication. A November 2012 study in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International found the most common errors in safety-related behavior in the OR stem from inadequate communication and teamwork, while a December Journal of American College of Surgeons study that concluded a surgical checklist, coupled with communications training, is a cost-effective way to reduce expensive postoperative complications.

For more:
- here's the research announcement
- check out the study abstract