Study suggests noisy operating rooms distract surgeons, nurses

May 29, 2013

A hospital’s operating room can be a noisy, distracting workplace.  There’s the hum of equipment, tones, beeps and conversations, that can all interfere with good communication. A University of Kentucky study looked into the kinds of sounds most often heard in the O-R.

Within an audio booth, U-K researchers sought to recreate the sounds doctors, nurses, and other medical staff might hear in the operating room.  The study examined how medical equipment, loud speech, or even background music might affect clear communication.  Ear surgeon Matt Bush says these sounds can blur dialogue.

“Additional distractions and volume levels of sounds or noise or recreational music that are in a very important critical communication environment can affect our understanding of the words that are being said and then could subsequently affect patient care,” said Bush.

When it comes to music in the operating room, Bush says volume and musical preference can impede communication. 

“One person of the team may find that, hey this music is something that I enjoy that I like to listen to at this level, but there may be others on the team that have hearing impairment or have difficulty in communicating because our faces are covered with masks and you can’t read lips and there’s communication barriers,” added Bush.

Bush says this study and further work could lead to new guidelines on sounds within the operating room.  The study is contained in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.