Distracted Operating? Young Doctors May Have Shorter Attention Spans.

A recent study indicated that younger, less experienced surgeons are more easily distracted by questions, noises and other disturbances in the operating room. Those disruptions can lead young surgeons to make serious, even deadly medical mistakes. The small study appeared in Archives of Surgery, a journal dedicated to surgical issues. It used a virtual reality simulator to track the performance of 18 surgeons performing a minimally invasive gall-bladder removal.

During the simulated procedures, distractions would be introduced to see how they affected the surgeon performing the operation. Distractions included a ringing cell phone, a dropped medical tray, or questions concerning problems experienced by other patients. The questions were found to be the most disruptive. The researchers discovered that 44 percent of the younger surgeons, those between 27 and 35 years of age, made a significant mistake when the distraction occurred.

The authors of the study called the problem significant. They also pointed out that even older surgeons were not immune to distractions. The likelihood of a mistake caused by distraction seemed to rise when the surgeon was tired or overworked. When presented with the study’s findings, many experienced surgeons were unsurprised.

Patient safety is a serious concern. Many surgeries allow patients the time to consider their options and ask questions. Before agreeing to undergo an operation, it is imperative for the patient to seek information about the procedure and the credentials of the doctor performing the operation. While younger doctors certainly need to gain experience somehow, patients have the right to insist that their doctor be fully qualified and knowledgeable before submitting to a serious medical procedure.

Source: iVillage, “Young Surgeons May Be Easily Distracted,” 4 December 2012