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Can tracking surgeons' stress make surgery safer?

Surgeons face many distractions in the operating room, making an already complex task even more challenging. Machines have sporadic alarms, equipment sometimes malfunctions, side conversations take place, and people walk in and out of the room. A new study from a researcher at Columbia’s Data Science Institute shows that stressful events lead to as much as a 66 percent increase in mistakes made by surgeons in the operating room. This shocking finding may lead to new rules safeguarding against distractions to make surgery safer.

Peter Dupont Grantcharov, lead author of the study while a master’s student at the Data Science Institute, carried out the study by observing 25 surgical procedures. Not only were the surgeries recorded but Grantcharov also outfitted surgeon Dr. Homero Rivas with a Hexoskin Smart Shirt under his scrubs to monitor his heart rate while he worked. Both his stress levels and surgical errors were time stamped so that Grantcharov could correlate the two.

“We hope that other researchers will build upon the methods we showed to be effective, and proceed to look into triggers that cause elevated stress; when we learn about these triggers, it’ll be critical to investigate how to manage the ones which we have control over. If those distractions can be identified, and steps taken to mitigate or eliminate them, operating rooms would be much safer for all of us,” said Grantcharov. Learn more.

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