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Study suggests that even minor stress can lead to surgical errors

Surgeons in Pennsylvania and around the country are more likely to make mistakes when they are under stress, according to a recent study from Columbia University. Researchers behind the study say that even minor irritations like an unexpected noise or a negative thought can endanger patients. These study results may be particularly worrisome to medical experts as operating rooms are extremely busy places and filled with machines that make all manner of electronic noises.

The researchers came to their conclusions after monitoring a Stanford Medical Center surgeon's heart activity while he performed 25 operations. The surgeon wore a special shirt under his scrubs during the procedures that kept track of his heart rate and the electrical impulses coming from his heart. This allowed the researchers to identify moments of increased stress. While he was wearing the shirt, a researcher observed the surgeon and kept track of any errors or mistakes he made. The times of the mistakes were then compared to the heart activity data.

The results of the study revealed that even minor stress increased the chances of a potentially dangerous mistake by as much as 66 percent. Researchers hope that the study will prompt hospitals to reconsider the conditions inside operating rooms and put procedures into place designed to reduce interruptions and lower stress. The study was published in the British Journal of Surgery.

Victims of operating room mistakes are often left with catastrophic injuries, but doctors and hospitals are rarely willing to admit that the care they provided failed to meet generally accepted medical standards. Evidence that establishes medical malpractice is sometimes found in hospital records, and personal injury attorneys with experience in this area may call on doctors or administrators to scrutinize these documents for discrepancies or unusual notations.

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