Teamwork and error in the operating room: analysis of skills and roles

Ann Surg. 2008 Apr;247(4):699-706. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0b013e3181642ec8.


Objective: To analyze the effects of surgical, anesthetic, and nursing teamwork skills on technical outcomes.

Summary background data: The value of team skills in reducing adverse events in the operating room is presently receiving considerable attention. Current work has not yet identified in detail how the teamwork and communication skills of surgeons, anesthetists, and nurses affect the course of an operation.

Methods: Twenty-six laparoscopic cholecystectomies and 22 carotid endarterectomies were studied using direct observation methods. For each operation, teams' skills were scored for the whole team, and for nursing, surgical, and anesthetic subteams on 4 dimensions (leadership and management [LM]; teamwork and cooperation; problem solving and decision making; and situation awareness). Operating time, errors in surgical technique, and other procedural problems and errors were measured as outcome parameters for each operation. The relationships between teamwork scores and these outcome parameters within each operation were examined using analysis of variance and linear regression.

Results: Surgical (F(2,42) = 3.32, P = 0.046) and anesthetic (F(2,42) = 3.26, P = 0.048) LM had significant but opposite relationships with operating time in each operation: operating time increased significantly with higher anesthetic but decreased with higher surgical LM scores. Errors in surgical technique had a strong association with surgical situation awareness (F(2,42) = 7.93, P < 0.001) in each operation. Other procedural problems and errors were related to the intraoperative LM skills of the nurses (F(5,1) = 3.96, P = 0.027).

Conclusions: Detailed analysis of team interactions and dimensions is feasible and valuable, yielding important insights into relationships between nontechnical skills, technical performance, and operative duration. These results support the concept that interventions designed to improve teamwork and communication may have beneficial effects on technical performance and patient outcome.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cholecystectomy, Laparoscopic* / adverse effects
  • Cholecystectomy, Laparoscopic* / standards
  • Clinical Competence
  • Communication
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Decision Making
  • Endarterectomy, Carotid* / adverse effects
  • Endarterectomy, Carotid* / standards
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Leadership
  • Medical Errors*
  • Nurse's Role
  • Patient Care Team* / standards
  • Physician's Role
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Treatment Outcome