Study Finds Surgeons Make More Mistakes When Under Stress

What are the causes of stress in the operating room?

A study recently released by Columbia University has some alarming implications.  The cutting edge study set out to uncover under what circumstances surgeons make the most errors.  Medical errors are a significant problem in the United States, with medical errors believed to cause between 250,000 and 440,000 deaths each year.  Surgical errors are among the most common instances of medical negligence, which makes research into the cause of these errors critical to saving lives.  Our New York medical malpractice lawyers discuss the findings of the new Columbia University study and what we can learn from it below.

Stress in the Operating Room

Columbia University researchers, led by Peter Dupont Grantcharov, developed the concept to have a surgeon wear a Hexoskin Smart Shirt while performing surgeries.  The shirt is designed to detect the electrical impulses within the heart that trigger heartbeats.  Data from the shirt can then be used to interpret the surgeon’s stress levels.  As the surgeon performed operations, the study’s author additionally collected laparoscopic video recordings of 25 different surgeries.  The recordings were analyzed to find instances of surgical errors, which were then correlated to the surgeon’s stress levels.

The results indicated a clear correlation between stress in the operating room and surgical errors. Researchers found that surgeons could be anticipated to make up to 66 percent more surgical errors on patients when under stress.  Additional research will need to be conducted to determine whether the study’s findings hold true and replicate among a group of surgeons.

The study’s authors further explored what could lead to stress in the operating room.  Stress could be found to stem from distractions within the surgical room. Surgeons may become stressed by equipment beeping, personnel walking in and out, side conversations, and the like.  Knowing the impact of stress on surgeons, hospitals and others can work to minimize stressful situations for surgeons.

One area of research is how to help surgeons learn to cope with the necessary stressors in the operating room.  While some distractions can be reduced, there will always be a certain level of stress. Surgeons can be taught over time how to moderate their reactions to stress in an effort to reduce surgical errors.


About the Author
Of all the different areas in medical malpractice, it is podiatry malpractice that has had a particular interest to me. With 42 years practicing law and representing hundreds of victims of malpractice, I have created a law practice in which my clients are comfortable knowing that their case is being handled with my personal attention, in the most professional manner, and without unreasonable delays.