The secret to successful patient outcomes in the Operating Room

The rapid evolution of technology and devices, methodology and best practice continues to transform the OR. According to Tom Downes, CEO, Quail Digital, what is most vital in the delivery of positive patient outcomes is clear and unhindered communication between all team members during surgery. There is limited face to face interaction with those inside the OR being essentially ‘cocooned’ from those outside, posing additional difficulties when communicating with external key workers. Also, a growing awareness of the link between increased noise in the OR which often results in miscommunication and a rise in post-operative complications. Potentially responsible for life or death situations, it’s vital that team members can work cohesively together despite the multitude of immense pressures they face on a daily basis.

Covid 19 has added even more challenges to this already demanding mix. While critical, increased Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and restrictive full body isolation suits place constraints on surgical, anaesthetic and scrub teams’ ability to communicate in the OR.

According to Dr. Ziv Tsafrir, “Protective suits afford no ability to communicate, so people resort to using sign language. When that doesn’t work, fewer members of staff wear the suits, which risks exposing them to the virus.”

The dangers of having to resort to sign language are clear. Finding a way of improving communication while ensuring we don’t compromise healthcare workers’ own health and safety is critical. We mustn’t also forget the patient who is possibly already terrified at the prospect of having a procedure without the added pressure of a room full of people wearing protective clothing. The inability to see the faces of healthcare professionals removes the verbal and non-verbal cues normally used to provide reassurance. Consequently, pre-operative preparation and induction of anaesthesia is often more anxiety-inducing than it was before. There have even been reports of some OR staff pinning a photo of themselves onto their PPE covered chests in an attempt to provide familiarity and some comfort to their patients.

Audio Headsets – the missing piece of the OR Jigsaw

So how do we address this myriad of communication problems? Well, the good news is that many surgeons across the country have found the answer in the form of audio headsets.

Paul Hartnett, Consultant Trauma and Orthopaedic Surgeon at Kings College Hospital and Orpington Hospital and David Sweetnam, Senior Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Schoen Clinic Orthopaedic and Spinal Hospital London, are among of a growing body of surgeons using audio headsets within the OR to ensure every team member can communicate effectively throughout a procedure.

Hartnett explains, “In the operating room good communication is key to successful outcomes. Basic safety and getting the best performance from the team is critical, especially during long complex cases.”

With six to eight or more people involved in every procedure working at a distance: three around the table, the anaesthetist at their own work station, runners and other prep staff often in other rooms, keeping everyone fully informed is not easy.

Using single channel, lightweight headsets provide high quality, effective communication where every team member is part of the process, with ready acknowledgement and confirmation of information and instruction.”

Hartnett confirms: “Audio headsets make a significant improvement in communicating to everyone involved. We all feel more like a team.”

Isn’t it time headsets became a standard component of the OR set-up? As Sweetnam concludes, “Headsets are the missing part of the jigsaw in ORs.” If this is true, who could disagree?