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Surgeon stress can lead to mistakes in operating room

The link between stress and medical errors has long been known, but a new study shows how even short-term stress can lead to mistakes in the operating room. Montana residents may want to know the results before they go under the knife. After all, medical errors are to blame for 250,000 to 440,000 deaths every year in the U.S.

Researchers at the Data Science Institute at Columbia University had a professor of surgery perform various procedures while wearing a Hexoskin Smart Shirt under his scrubs. This shirt, often used by athletes during workouts, measures electrical impulses from the heart and can help determine momentary stress levels based on the time between heartbeats. Through laparoscopic video recordings, researchers could document any mistakes.

The data was then timestamped and correlated. Short-term stress, researchers concluded, raises the risk for an error by as much as 66 percent. This stress could be caused by something as brief as an irritation caused by malfunctioning equipment or the sound of people walking in and out of the OR. Surgical errors are liable to result in serious injuries like bleeding, torn tissue and burns.

The researchers hope that future studies build on their findings, especially regarding causes of stress. An earlier study from Loyola Medicine shows that teaching doctors emotional intelligence skills could help prevent burnout and, with it, errors.

Victims of medical malpractice may be eligible for compensation that could cover past and future medical expenses. However, success will depend on showing how the doctor failed to live up to an objective standard of care. That's why a victim may want to hire a lawyer before moving forward.

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