Music during operations should be reviewed

Can impair communication between staff
  • Deborah Condon

The use of background music in operating theatres should be reviewed, as it may impair communication and lead to tension among staff, the results of a new study suggest.

Music was first introduced into operating theatres just over 100 years ago, with the aim of relieving anxiety in patients. Today, music is usually played for the benefit of staff.

UK researchers set out to assess the impact of music in operating theatres. They analysed video footage taken during 20 operations that lasted a total of 35 hours. Music was played during 70% of these operations.

Multiple cameras allowed the researchers to analyse both verbal and non-verbal communication between staff.

The study found that when music is played in an operating theatre, communication can be impaired. For example, requests by surgeons to nurses for instruments or supplies often had to be repeated and some of the surgical team appeared tense or frustrated as a result.

"In the operating theatres we observed, it was usually the senior medics of the team who made the decision about background music. Without a standard practice of the team deciding together, it is left up to junior staff and nurses to speak up and challenge the decisions of senior doctors, which can be extremely daunting," noted one of the study's lead authors, Dr Terhi Korkiakangas, of University College London.

She said that when it comes to the public's perception of music in operating theatres, this is often shaped by ‘media portrayals of surgical teams always working to a background of smooth music'.

"However, we found that often dance and drum and bass were played fairly loudly," she said.

The researchers acknowledged that music can be helpful to staff, as there can be a lot of background noise and 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," commented another lead author, Sharon-Marie Weldon, of Imperial College London.

The study noted that there could be sudden increases in volume between tracks, or staff sometimes turned up popular songs. However, this could impair communication in the theatre.

The researchers called for surgical teams to discuss whether to play music during an operation, making sure to take into account the views of nurses. If the decision is taken to play music, consideration should be given to the volume at which it is played.

Details of these findings are published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing.


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