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Distractions in surgery can lead to medical malpractice

In our last post we discussed the fact that younger drivers are prone to distractions that can cause car accidents. But a new study suggests that combined inexperience and inattention can have negative consequences in other areas, too -- namely, the operating room.

The study focused on what happens when less experienced surgeons are met with distractions during an operation. These distractions can lead to errors that amount to medical malpractice.

According to the research, 44 percent of surgeons between the ages of 27 and 35 committed a major error because they were distracted during surgery. To test their theory without risking harm to real patients, study researchers used a virtual reality simulator of gallbladder surgery, an operation that is minimally invasive but requires a great deal of concentration. The 18 surgeons participating in the study were in their second, third and research years of their residencies.

Simulated distractions included a cellphone ringing and a tray falling on the floor. Other times the surgeons were interrupted with questions about another patient during critical moments of the surgery. Sometimes these interruptions prompted conversations among other people present during the operation. The most errors happened as a result of the questioning, though the side conversations were the second leading cause of mistakes, some of which were serious and potentially fatal.

It's worth noting that the worst and most frequent mistakes tended to occur in the afternoon, when surgeons were most likely to feel tired or overworked. The authors concluded that the time of day can affect more experienced surgeons as well. The difference may be that doctors with more experience have learned to cope with distractions over time and are therefore less likely to commit errors that amount to medical malpractice.

Source: iVillage, "Young Surgeons May Be Easily Distracted," Dec. 4, 2012

  • Our firm handles medical malpractice cases and many other personal injury matters. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Newark medical malpractice page.

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