Music in operating theatre likely to cause distractions, study finds

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A newly published study in Journal of Advanced Nursing suggests that playing music in operating theatre might distract surgeons as well as those present to aid in the surgery and pose a safety risk to patients.

Listening to music in operating theatres is a common practice. According to the study, music is currently played in approximately 50 to 70 per cent of surgical operations performed worldwide. In fact it has been playing in OTs almost since it was possible to have portable music devices.

One of the primary aims of playing music in OTs was to benefit patients by creating a relaxing ambience as they were anaesthetised and patients have revealed that they like it. There have been studies wherein patients have revealed that it reduces pre-operative anxiety; however, the new study raises a question on the assumption that music is soothing, suitable to a broad taste in music and not having any unexpected adverse consequences.

The study, carried out by researchers at Imperial College London, found that music in OTs could be so loud and intrusive that it ends up hampering staff communications with good communication being one of the most important things in terms of speed and accuracy of information exchange, requests and instructions and from the patient safety perspective as well.

The study is based on 20 operations conducted in the UK and according to the findings repeated requests–for example, for a surgical instrument–were 5 times more likely to occur in surgeries with music than in those without.

Dr Terhi Korkiakangas, one of the two lead authors from UCL Institute of Education, said that during their observations they found that it was usually the senior members of the team who made the decision about background music.

“Without a standard practice of the team deciding together, it is left up to junior staff and nurses to speak up and challenge the decisions of senior doctors, which can be extremely daunting”, he notes.

Dr Korkiakangas further said: “Public perception of music in operating theatres is shaped by media portrayals of surgical teams always working to a background of smooth music. We found that often dance and drum and bass were played fairly loudly.”

Researchers note that OTs are already noisy environments and the noise levels exceed recommended safety limits. Music, which is often played loudly, adds to the overall problem.

Authors of the study note that their study has identified serious patient safety issues that cannot be ignored. They recommend that surgical teams hold frank discussions about playing music during an operation, with particular emphasis on taking into consideration the views of nurses.

The medical team should also introduce a standard check to voice concerns about music and for teams to ensure that music remains at a volume low enough to create a sound working environment also for colleagues who may be more sensitive to noise.