Columbia U study links stress with higher risk of surgical errors

Stress, even momentary stress, can raise the risk for surgeons committing errors in the operating room. Those in Washington who are about to undergo surgery may want to know what researchers from the Data Science Institute at Columbia University have to say about this trend.

For their study, researchers had a surgeon wear a Hexoskin Smart Shirt under his scrubs while performing surgeries. This shirt measured the electrical impulses that triggered heartbeats while laparoscopic video recordings were taken at the same time of every procedure. Researchers documented errors in the video and saw how they were correlated to the times when variations in heartbeats told them that the surgeon was stressed.

Researchers gathered this data over a more than one-year period. They found that short-term stress made the surgeon as much as 66% more likely to commit a surgical error. The possible distractions in the OR were many: alarms from machines and other loud noises, malfunctioning equipment, people walking in and out and so on. Surgical errors resulting from stress can lead to patients incurring burns, torn tissue and bleeding.

One way to combat this trend is to provide better training for surgeons. One Loyola Medicine study has revealed the benefits of training that involves stress management and the improvement of one's emotional intelligence.

If surgeons are not protected against burnout, they will be unable to manage stress or, with that, prevent mistakes. Surgical errors can lead to serious injuries, but those who have incurred such injuries may seek compensation under medical malpractice law. If successful, their claim might cover things like past and future medical expenses, lost income during the physical recovery and pain and suffering. Victims may want a lawyer to assist them, though, since it can be hard to gather pertinent evidence and negotiate a settlement alone.

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