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Imprecise language can cause surgical errors

On Behalf of | Sep 28, 2021 | Medical Malpractice |

Surgery is unlike everyday situations and requires clear and precise language. But unclear language is also a part of surgery. Researchers recently reviewed six recording teaching surgeries and found that imprecise language among surgeons caused 131 instances that almost led to medical error.

Past research

Miscommunication is the leading cause of error in surgery. Other studies were performed but were limited to inner professional team members like surgeons and nurses.

New study

This study comprised the first research to concern surgeons only and was published in the Journal of Surgical Education.  Previously, no one studied the language that two surgeons use when they communicate with each other, especially at the semantics level.

It revealed almost 4,000 potentially unclear phases in six video recorded teaching surgeries at a Pennsylvania university medical center. This equaled almost 12 ambiguous phases for each minute of surgery.  Although there were almost 131 close calls, none of the phrases led to medical error.

In one example, a resident performing surgery was cutting too close to the patient’s bladder. The attending surgeon saw this said and the cutting was awfully close to the bladder. Instead, the surgeon should have said that the surgeon should stop because the scissors are pointed towards the bladder and that continuing would cut into the bladder.

Standardized language

Researchers in this study made recommendations that could reduce surgical errors and medical malpractice. First, more standardized language should be used in operating rooms. Placement of colored signs on the walls, for example, could say move a little blue instead of move a little left because this instruction depends on the surgeon’s point of view.

One of the researchers was influenced by the airline industry which implemented standardized language to reduce miscommunications. This occurred after the crash of Indonesia AirAsia Flight 8301. This accident was partially blamed on the co-pilot misinterpreting what the pilot meant when he said pull down.

Attending surgeons and residents will separately watch recordings involving unclear language in future research. Their interpretations will be compared.

Attorneys can assist patients and their families when surgeons did meet the appropriate standard of care. They can help gather evidence and pursue compensation in a lawsuit.