Prevalence and Characteristics of Interruptions and Distractions During Surgical Counts


      Surgical counting is a complex and safety-critical task that requires sustained attention by multiple members of the surgical team in order to prevent the occurrence of an unintentionally retained foreign object. Interruptions and distractions in the operating room are common and can negatively affect task performance. However, the prevalence and sources of interruptions and distractions during safety-critical tasks, such as surgical counting, have not previously been quantified. An understanding of the characteristics of these events could be used to inform targeted improvements to patient safety.


      Observations were conducted of surgical procedures in order to quantify and describe interruptions and distractions during surgical counting activities. Analysis was separated into phases: the initial count, additions to the surgical field, removals from the surgical field, and closure counts.


      Thirty-six surgical procedures were observed. Interruptions occurred in 10.0% of initial counts, 15.4% of additions, 23.5% of removals, and 33.3% of closure counts observed. The source of 80.4% of interruptions was a surgeon, usually asking the scrub nurse for an item. Distractions were present in 46.7% of initial counts, 38.5% of additions, 41.2% of removals, and 40.9% of closure counts observed. Common sources of distraction included music, conversations, people entering and exiting the theater, and ringing phones.


      Interruptions and distractions are common during surgical counts and can significantly affect patient safety by jeopardizing the accuracy of the count. A number of suggestions are provided that could reduce interruptions and distractions and their consequences.
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