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Quiet ORs Better for Patient Safety

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, May 16, 2013

Factor in that auditory ranges for operating room staff may be diminished by age or damage from occupational or environmental exposure, and the risk for miscommunication increases.

In fact, study results show that variances in comprehension levels were statistically significant, and should prompt hospital OR teams to think through their practices.

"We're not advocating a completely silent operating room that is devoid of music, [or] devoid of social conversations or communication, because these are environments in which people can naturally work well together," Bush emphasizes. "We certainly don't want to create a workforce of silent drones."

"What we do advocate as a result of our study is that each surgical team, and perhaps each institution, consider very carefully what's being done, and what happens acoustically in their operating room settings."

If members of the team are having difficulty hearing or communicating, if comments or requests must be repeated, "that all must be weighed by the surgical team, and people should say, 'You know, I'm having difficulty communicating. Can we address this? Can we turn that monitor down? Could we stop for a minute and make sure we're not making a mistake?"

In their experiment, which was conducted in an audiology lab not an operating room, surgeons were asked if they understood sentences. Some of the sentences were highly predictable—that is, if someone didn't hear some of the words he or she could pretty well figure out what they might be from the context.

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