Patient safety experts shift focus to operating room culture

Lack of communication and "rock star" behavior can compromise patient safety

Surgery is an inherently dangerous procedure and is responsible for a disproportionate number of patient injuries and fatalities. As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, one of the big problems that patient safety advocates are currently trying to deal with is a "rock star" mentality among some surgeons. Experts say that lack of communication and a dismissive attitude among some surgeons towards their peers has led to surgical errors. In light of the problem, many hospitals have begun reforming the way operating rooms operate in order to promote a more respectful and safety-oriented culture.

Rock star surgeons

According to the Wall Street Journal, surgeons have a reputation among medical professionals as being "the rock stars of medicine." Medical staff at hospitals often report that some surgeons are dismissive towards peers that work below them and are highly resistant to following new protocols that might be perceived as undermining their authority.

As a result, nurses and other professionals who work with surgeons in the operating room can often feel intimidated by a surgeon's behavior. One study found that so-called "disruptive surgeons" are more likely to cause mistakes that can harm a patient. Some hospitals have begun instituting new protocols that focus on teamwork and creating a more respectful work environment, which in turn should lead to improved patient safety.

Massachusetts case spurs change

Lack of effective communication in the operating room likely contributed to a tragic incident in Massachusetts in 2013, according to the Boston Globe. In that case, a surgeon performing a back operation on a patient requested a dye for use on the spine. Because the pharmacy didn't have the dye in question, it provided another dye in its place. However, the replacement dye was unsafe for use in the spine, as was clearly stated on its label.

Despite the danger, the surgeon used the dye on the patient. The patient consequently developed complications because of the dye and passed away a day after the surgery. The surgeon in the case had read the label, but due to "cognitive bias" he read what he expected to read, not what was actually printed, according to experts. Furthermore, he assumed that his coworkers at the hospital had already verified that the dye was safe and so did not take additional steps to ensure the patient's safety. The case has led to widespread changes in how surgeons communicate with their peers during operations.

Medical malpractice

Any patient who has been injured by a negligent or reckless surgeon or other medical professional should get in touch with a medical malpractice attorney. Patients routinely place their health and often their lives in the hands of surgeons. A surgeon who fails to respect protocols and safety procedures designed to protect patients should be held accountable for his or her actions. A medical malpractice attorney can assist injured patients in understanding what rights and options they have following any incident of alleged medical malpractice.