For surgeons, playing music while performing a medical procedure can help keep their focus since it lessens background noise and other distractions in the operating theater. According to a new study conducted in the United Kingdom, however, this should be done with the consent of every member of the team after considering both its risks and benefits.

In a study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, researchers at the Imperial College London and the UCL Institute of Education (IoE) examined video footage of a medical operation being conducted while there was music playing in the background.

They discovered that the background music impaired communication between the members of the team, such as when the surgeon had to repeat requests to nurses for supplies or instruments. The footage showed qualitative evidence of tension or frustration buildup within the team.

Lead researcher Sharon-Marie Weldon of Imperial's surgery and cancer department said that while music can help improve the concentration of medical staff working in an operating room, the decision to play music should be carried out through a considered approach.

Weldon explained that discussions or negotiations should be made within the group whether music should be played during the operation and regarding the type of music and volume that it should be played on.

IoE researcher and study co-author Dr. Terhi Korkiakangas said that in the operating theaters that were able to observe, the operating team's senior medics were the ones to decide whether to play background music.

If there is no standard practice within the team, Korkiakangas said that junior staff members and nurses were left to voice their opinion and challenge the senior doctors' decisions, which can be an unnerving experience for the team.

The practice of playing music during a medical operation was first started in 1914 to help relieve stress and anxiety of patients. Modern-day procedures, however, involve having patients induced with anesthetic before going into the operating room, and music is sometimes played for the clinical staff's benefit.

New operating theaters now feature music players and portable speakers in order to play music during medical procedures.

Korkiakangas said that public's view of background music being played in operating rooms is influenced by portrayals in the media of medical teams working to a smooth music playing in the background. He pointed out that they were able to observe some procedures where dance music and musical instruments were played loudly.

Weldon, Korkiakangas and their colleagues made use of state-of-the-art video technology during their study of 20 real time surgical procedures. Video footage captured using multiple cameras placed in different vantage points allowed the researchers to closely study the verbal and non-verbal interactions between the members of the operating team.

The researchers were able to observe 20 medical operations, equivalent to about 35 hours' worth of footage. Around 70 percent of these procedures featured music playing in the background.

They discovered that the manner how the operating team controlled and played the background music was vital as well. If the digital sources of the music were not standardized, it could lead to sudden volume increases as the tracks change.

The researchers also observed staff members who turned up the volume when a popular song was played, which led to the impairment of communication within the team.

The findings of the study suggest that operating teams should hold discussions regarding the playing of background music during the procedure, with careful consideration of the nurses' views.

These results point to the importance of reviewing the Time Out section of the Surgery Safety Checklist developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The guideline involves having each member of the operating team introduce their name and function during the operation, as well as making sure that the plan and the details are clear to everyone.

Time Out sessions can provide members of the operating team an opportunity to voice their opinion on whether to play background music. It can also allow the team to set conditions and preferences that are agreeable to every member.

The researchers used their findings to develop the Video Supported Simulation for Interactions in the Operating Theater (ViSIOT), which is a training model that allows for better communication within operating teams.

Photo: Jeff Kubina | Flickr 

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