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Surgical environment key for theatre

August 06, 2015

Research conducted at Imperial College London has found that music can be disruptive to healthcare professionals in an operating theatre. Although it is often thought that background music can help surgeons relax and remain calm in the high-pressure environment, new analysis has suggested that it could actually be detrimental to the surgical environment.

The study from Imperial College London looked at 20 surgical operations in two hospitals across the UK. With 35 hours of footage in total, they looked for both verbal and non-verbal communications between staff in surgery.

With cameras placed in key spots around the operating theatre, the researchers were able to gather accurate data about conversations in surgery. They found that having music playing caused some misunderstanding, with healthcare workers having to ask others to repeat instructions for medical equipment.

The team also determined that the decision about whether to have music on was often left to senior doctors, rather than nurses.  

Of the 20 operations recorded, music was playing during 16 of them, which had the ability to cause problems for people in the operating theatre. In one instance, a nurse had to ask for the music to be turned down as she was struggling to count the amount of swabs that had been used.

In response to the findings, the Royal College of Surgeons has said that many doctors actually benefit from listening to music in surgery as it helps them relax, adding that this kind of disruption is not a problem across the NHS.

Sharon-Marie Weldon, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London and lead researcher of the study, said: "Music can be helpful to staff working in operating theatres where there is often a lot of background noise, as well as other distractions - it can improve concentration. 

"That said, we'd like to see a more considered approach, with much more discussion or negotiation over whether music is played, the type of music and volume within the operating teams."

The findings, which were published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, could help healthcare workers improve the surgical environment, which is key to ensuring that both patients and other staff members are kept safe.

It is essential that clear instructions can be heard in an operating theatre, especially when it comes to handling sharps and reducing the number of injuries sustained by healthcare workers.

Mishearing what is being said or not being able to listen clearly could result in medical sharps being passed to or from someone that is not expecting it. This would significantly increase the risk of suffering a percutaneous injury, which could expose the healthcare worker to bloodborne pathogens. 

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