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Risk of Surgical Infection Rises with OR Noise Levels

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, June 23, 2011

But measuring hectic movement and loud noise are subjective. So Beldi tried another study, this one fine-tuning an objective measurement of noise in the O.R.

Beldi and his colleagues measured decibel levels of sound during 35 elective open abdominal procedures in decibels every second of the operation. (Yes, the number was extremely small and perhaps statistically insignificant. But Beldi might just be on to something.) The researchers also counted surgical site infections within 30 days of each patient's surgery.

Not only did they find a correlation, they also found that discussions involving non-surgery related topics raised the volume considerably, and thus the number of infections. Apparently team members spoke louder when they weren't talking about the surgery, and therefore, they were distracted from the surgery.

Six of the 35 patients, or 17%, developed surgical site infections within 30 days, a result that Beldi attributed to the sound level in the operating room, "in particular talking about non-surgery related topics."

"The median sound level and the median level above baseline were significantly higher for patients who developed a surgical site infection," the researchers wrote.

In addition to noise, other variables were examined, such as: the number of team members replaced during the procedure, whether 10 or more people were in the operating room, whether there was unfocused conversation by the anesthesiologists and, of course, adherence to standard antiseptic protocols before and during surgery.

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