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Does stress increase the risk of surgical errors?

Chicago residents may know that distractions on the road are dangerous for all drivers on the road, but they may be surprised to hear that disturbances in an operating room can increase the chances of surgical errors. A recent study concluded that when a surgeon is stressed out, he or she is more likely to make a mistake on a patient in an operating room. The stress can be brought about by something trivial and could last briefly-it still has the potential to be dangerous.

The study had an associate professor of surgery at a medical center wearing an innovative shirt under his scrubs for 25 procedures, most of which were gastric bypasses, to monitor impulses from the doctor's heart. The differences in heartbeat were monitored, demonstrating when he was experiencing more stress. At the same time, the mistakes the doctor was making were also being recorded and the time of each error. The study concluded that the likelihood of making a mistake during moments of stress increased by around 66 percent.

The number of distractions and noises in the operating room was also alarming-machines buzzing and beeping, conversations, people coming in and out of the operating room and equipment malfunctions, all amount to disturbances in the room. The researchers hope the study could jumpstart more discussion on the link between stress and surgical errors in the operating room and steps can be taken to reduce distractions during the procedures as well.

Medical mistakes lead to anywhere between 250,000 to 400,000 deaths a year in the country, most of which take place in the operating room. If surgical errors or doctor's mistakes amounting to medical malpractice cause an individual's death, it might be possible to hold the medical professional accountable for their negligence through a lawsuit.

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