On cell phones & silence

Turn off portable electronic devices and stow them away until instructed otherwise. That means cell phones, beepers and other gizmos that distract the cardiac surgical team during a procedure.

That was the advice of Douglas A. Wiegmann, PhD, an engineer at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a speaker at the American College of Cardiology (ACC) scientific session in Washington, D.C. Wiegmann, an expert in aviation safety, evaluates workplace environments to identify human factors that contribute to errors. Or, to frame it in a positive light, he ferrets out barriers that prevent a worker from doing an optimal job.     

Wiegmann shared what he learned when he transferred his skills to the medical sphere in an analysis of a cardiac operating room. He described the cacophony of sounds from mobile phones and other devices that interfered with communication among team members. Imagine your pilot interrupting his or her routine to take a call reminding him or her to pick up bread on the way home, he said. Not a good practice.

He also witnessed numerous people popping in and out of the operating room for unrelated reasons; surgeons and support staff switching their attention to medical students who were observing procedures; and equipment that interrupted workflow. He and his team counted eight disruption per hour and five errors per case. The next step was designing protocols to eliminate or reduce the distractions and standardizing good practices.

Wiegmann focuses on life-and-death workplace situations but his insights apply across disciplines and settings. It was one of many presentations at ACC.14 that were designed to help cardiologists be better at what they do. Other speakers discussed career issues and the cardiologist’s role in the larger context of healthcare reform.

With so many events on the agenda, an attendee can catch only a sliver of what the conference has to offer. We have tried to help on that front with some practice management-focused coverage, provided here.

Candace Stuart

Cardiovascular Business, editor