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Stressed surgeons could make more medical mistakes

New York readers may be alarmed to learn that surgeons could be much more likely to make a medical mistake if they suffer stress in the operating room, according to a recent study. The study, which was conducted by researchers at Columbia University, was published in the open access journal BJS Open.

For the small-scale study, a surgeon at Stanford Medical Center agreed to wear a high-tech "smart shirt" under his scrubs for 25 surgical procedures. The shirt was designed to monitor his heart rate for signs of elevated stress. During the procedures, a researcher also documented any errors the surgeon made and the time they occurred.

The study found that the surgeon was up to 66 percent likelier to make a mistake when he was experiencing higher levels of stress. It also found that very small incidents could cause a rise in his stress level. These incidents included things like negative thoughts, equipment malfunctions, the sound of alarms on medical machines, medical staff entering and exiting the room and background conversations by others. The study's authors concluded that additional research needs to be done to better understand the causes of stress experienced by surgical staff and how they can be reduced.

Medical mistakes, including surgical errors, are a top cause of patient harm in the United States. Patients who suffer from a surgical error may have a strong medical malpractice claim against the doctor and/or hospital responsible for the mistake. An attorney could evaluate a person's case and help determine if the doctor or hospital failed to provide the required standard of care. If it is determined that the patient received substandard care, he or she could be awarded financial compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.

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