A new study reveals that during stressful moments in the
operating room, surgeons make up to 66% more mistakes on patients. Using a
technology that captured the electrical activity of a surgeon’s heart,
researchers found that during intervals of short-term stress, which can be
triggered by a negative thought or a loud noise in the operating room, surgeons
are much more prone to make mistakes that can cause bleeding, torn tissue, or
burns.

The results of the study, published in the open branch
of the British Journal of Surgery, could lead to the development of protocol
aiming to reduce acute or short-term stress on surgeons working in the
operating room.

It’s an important study published in a prestigious journal,
and even more impressive is that its lead author, Peter Dupont Grantcharov, is
a master’s student at the Data Science Institute at Columbia. A year and a half
ago, Grantcharov had the idea to ask Dr Homero Rivas, Associate Professor of
Surgery at Stanford Medical Center, to wear a Hexoskin Smart Shirt under his
scrubs while he did surgeries. The shirt, designed to give athletes precise
physiological data during workouts, measures the electrical impulses that
trigger heartbeats. From this data, Grantcharov derived heart-rate variability
statistics ‒ the variation in times between heartbeats, to determine Rivas’s
momentary stress levels.  

Grantcharov was also allowed in the operating room, where he
collected laparoscopic video recordings of Rivas as he worked. Another
researcher later reviewed the recordings and documented Rivas’s mistakes using
validated frameworks for assessing surgical performance. Both his stress levels
and surgical errors were time stamped so that Grantcharov could correlate the
two. This data yielded the somewhat alarming finding that the effect of
short-term stress on surgical error is as high as a 66% increase.
   

“I was surprised by that, as well as by the amount of
distractions in the operating room,” says Grantcharov, who did the study while
working as a research assistant at the Stanford Medical Center before enrolling
at DSI. “Many machines have alarms that go off periodically, equipment
malfunctions, side conversations take place, people walk in and out of the OR –
I could go on. My hope is that other researchers will build upon our work to
make further strides in learning about the causes of stress on surgical
personnel. If our study helps make the OR a safer place for patients, I’d be
thrilled.”  

Source: https://datascience.columbia.edu/surgeons-under-stress-make-more-mistakes-in-operating-room

Reference: Grantcharov
PD, et al. Acute mental stress and surgical performance. British Journal of
Surgery. First published 27 September 2018. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/bjs5.10