Noise peaks influence communication in the operating room. An observational study

Ergonomics. 2016 Dec;59(12):1541-1552. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2016.1159736. Epub 2016 Apr 7.


Noise peaks are powerful distractors. This study focuses on the impact of noise peaks on surgical teams' communication during 109 long abdominal surgeries. We related measured noise peaks during 5-min intervals to the amount of observed communication during the same interval. Results show that noise peaks are associated with less case-relevant communication; this effect is moderated by the level of surgical experience; case-relevant communications decrease under high noise peak conditions among junior, but not among senior surgeons. However, case-irrelevant communication did not decrease under high noise level conditions, rather there was a trend to more case-irrelevant communication under high noise peaks. The results support the hypothesis that noise peaks impair communication because they draw on attentional resources rather than impairing understanding of communication. As case-relevant communication is important for surgical performance, exposure to high noise peaks in the OR should be minimised especially for less experienced surgeons. Practitioner Summary: This study investigated whether noise during surgeries influenced the communication within surgical teams. During abdominal surgeries, noise levels were measured and communication was observed. Results showed that high noise peaks reduced the frequency of patient-related communication, but did not reduce patient-irrelevant communication. Noise may negatively affect team coordination in surgeries.

Keywords: Operating room; communication; distractors; noise.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Communication*
  • Humans
  • Multilevel Analysis
  • Noise*
  • Operating Rooms*
  • Operative Time
  • Patient Care Team*
  • Surgeons*