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Quiet ORs Better for Patient Safety

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, May 16, 2013

Music at loud decibels can contribute to miscues among surgeons and nurses in the operating room, raising the risk of medical error, researchers say.

Operating rooms are noisy places. There's mechanical noise from whirring drills, beeping and humming from vital sign monitors, and whooshing sounds from fans and suction devices. Those sounds are largely unavoidable.


But then there's human noise, from conversations, doors opening and closing, the clanging of team members handling instruments and equipment, and, of course, the sound of whatever songs the team wants to hear.

Now, a study is suggesting that all that noise could contribute to miscommunication that leads to errors or issues in patient safety, says Matthew Bush, MD, and colleagues from the University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Their project, described in an article this week in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons, exposed 15 volunteering surgeons to varying levels of noise from conversations, machinery and other operating room sounds. They found that the louder the noise, the less the surgeons were able to discern sentences accurately. When the doctors were asked to complete tasks simultaneously, their ability to hear accurately declined even further.

The music—Beatles tunes played at 74.2 decibels—was louder than normal conversational sound of about 60 db. But, Bush says, it was loud enough that "you'd have to raise your voice to be heard over this environment."

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