Williams, Walsh & O'Connor, LLC

Physician stress results in 66 percent of surgical errors

Each year, as many as 440,000 Americans die from medical errors. Many of them occur in the operating room.

A new study published this month by researchers at Columbia University shows how surgeons are 66 percent more likely to make mistakes in the operating room when they're under stress. This has motivated researchers to find ways to help doctors de-stress in hopes that it will reduce patient fatalities.

In order to determine doctor stress levels, the lead researcher working on this study asked a Stanford surgeon to suit up with a Hexoskin Smart Shirt beneath his scrubs while performing operations. The shirt tracked the electrical activity generated by the surgeon's heart.

What researchers found is that loud sounds or their own negative thoughts in the operating room can make them more vulnerable to short-term stress. This can, in turn, leave them vulnerable to severing tissue, burning patients or unnecessarily causing them to bleed.

Since discovering this, the researchers have been trying to identify a new protocol that can be developed to reduce acute stress surgeons face while in the operating room. They note that a Loyola Medicine study published earlier in the year captured how emotional intelligence training physicians underwent showed promise in helping them prevent burnout, reducing their stress and improving their overall health.

The lead researcher also noted that it's important to identify ways to reduce surgical suite distractions that may cause doctors to feel anxious. He contends that when he spent time in the operating room, he was surprised at how many distractions there are from team members constantly working in and out of the operating room or having side conversations and alarms on equipment frequently go off.

Each time a surgical error occurs, it doesn't just impact the bottom line and reputations of the doctor or the facility where the incident occurred, but more importantly, a patient's injury or death creates a lasting impression on the lives of victims and those who care about them. An attorney can provide strong legal advocacy when your New Haven physician or caregiver has been negligent.

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