Background: Ineffective team communication is frequently at the root of medical error. The objective of this study was to describe the characteristics of communication failures in the operating room (OR) and to classify their effects. This study was part of a larger project to develop a team checklist to improve communication in the OR.
Methods: Trained observers recorded 90 hours of observation during 48 surgical procedures. Ninety four team members participated from anesthesia (16 staff, 6 fellows, 3 residents), surgery (14 staff, 8 fellows, 13 residents, 3 clerks), and nursing (31 staff). Field notes recording procedurally relevant communication events were analysed using a framework which considered the content, audience, purpose, and occasion of a communication exchange. A communication failure was defined as an event that was flawed in one or more of these dimensions.
Results: 421 communication events were noted, of which 129 were categorized as communication failures. Failure types included “occasion” (45.7% of instances) where timing was poor; “content” (35.7%) where information was missing or inaccurate, “purpose” (24.0%) where issues were not resolved, and “audience” (20.9%) where key individuals were excluded. 36.4% of failures resulted in visible effects on system processes including inefficiency, team tension, resource waste, workaround, delay, patient inconvenience and procedural error.
Conclusion: Communication failures in the OR exhibited a common set of problems. They occurred in approximately 30% of team exchanges and a third of these resulted in effects which jeopardized patient safety by increasing cognitive load, interrupting routine, and increasing tension in the OR.
- patient safety
- operating theatre
Statistics from Altmetric.com
If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.
This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Physicians of Ontario through the PSI Foundation. L Lingard is supported by a CIHR New Investigator Award; G Regehr is supported as the Richard and Elizabeth Currie Chair in Health Professions Education; B Orser is supported by an Ontario Ministry of Health Career Award.