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Music in surgery can be disruptive

Thursday 6th August 2015
A new study from Imperial College London has found that playing music in theatre can be disruptive. Image Credit: Thinkstock
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New findings from Imperial College London have suggested that having music playing in an operating theatre can actually be disruptive.

As part of the study, cameras were placed in various spots in operating theatres across two hospitals in the UK. Some 20 surgical procedures were filmed, recording both verbal and non-verbal communication between staff.

The team found that playing music caused staff to struggle to understand what was being asked of them, with instances of people having to repeat instructions for medical equipment.

When analysing both verbal and non-verbal communication between operating theatre staff, the researchers determined that playing music, which was often the decision of senior doctors, could lead to problems in surgery.

Speaking about the findings, the Royal College of Surgeons has suggested that this is not a problem that is common across the NHS, with many doctors benefitting from listening to music as they operate.

In the 35 hours of footage recorded, music was played in 16 of the 20 operations. The team found that senior doctors often made decisions about background music rather than nurses and heavy dance music was sometimes played at a level that made listening to each other difficult.

This often made it difficult for other operating staff to understand what was being said. In one surgery, for instance, a nurse had to ask for the music to be turned down because she was struggling to count the number of swabs that had been used.

Lead researcher Sharon-Marie Weldon, from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, said: "Music can be helpful to staff working in operating theatres where there is often a lot of background noise, as well as other distractions - it can improve concentration.

"That said, we'd like to see a more considered approach, with much more discussion or negotiation over whether music is played, the type of music and volume within the operating teams."

The findings have been published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Written by Mathew Horton

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