Music can hamper surgeons’ communication, study finds

MUSIC played during surgery can interfere with team communication and is a potential safety hazard, according to new research.

In operating theatres that opted to play background tunes, clinical staff were five times more likely to repeat requests, such as for surgical instruments, to make themselves heard. Each repeated request added up to a minute to the length of the surgery and was found to increase tensions “due to frustration in ineffective communication.”

Researchers studied video footage of 20 operations in two UK operating theatres over a six-month period, with music played in 16 cases.

The study, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, noted decisions about music were usually made by a senior member of the medical team, rather than the nurses. Footage showed dance music and drum and bass were often played loudly with nurses in some instances observed visibly struggling to hear the surgeon’s instructions. On one occasion a nurse asked for the music to be turned down as she was struggling to concentrate on counting swabs.

In a statement, the Royal College of Surgeons said the study was small and there was “no evidence loud distracting music is a widespread issue in NHS hospitals”. It said some studies suggest music can help to create a calm atmosphere in the operating theatre, but advised: “If music is played during surgery it must not be a distraction for any members of the surgical team and must not discomfort patients.”

Sharon-Marie Weldon, a lead author of the study from the Department of Surgery and Cancer at Imperial College London, also said music can have a positive effect.

She 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.”

Read the study here