Is your operating room as safe as it can be? Though safety in the OR has increased over the last decade, improvements have not been what clinicians had hoped to see. There are still some 4,000 surgical errors every year in the United States including wrong-site surgeries which happen approximately 20 times every week!1

Has Your Organization Created A Culture Of Safety?  Download The 20 Signs Checklist

When it comes to keeping patients safe in the operating room, most hospitals have processes in place to prevent any potential issues. However, in our fast-paced digital age, more distractions in the form of digital devices exist than ever before and inattention can have dire consequences. It’s important to follow established, proven best practices, so your patients can receive the quality patient care they need and expect. If you’re concerned about creating a culture of safety in your hospital operating room, here are some tips to keep your patients safe.

Making the OR Safer for Patients

One of the most essential ways of preventing safety issues is through careful planning before the first incision is even made. Becker’s Hospital Review makes a strong case that every patient should have a unique surgical checklist.1 This not only helps cut down on erroneous surgeries but also ensures that proper processes (such as anesthesiology or use of surgical instruments) is followed to the letter. According to the Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses, preventing major mistakes such as wrong site surgery can improve significantly when the team pauses for a short briefing two minutes prior to the start of surgery.

But what if something does go wrong? In many cases, preventing the worst from happening involves improving the quality and amount of communication and empowering medical staff to speak up if they notice a potential problem. For example, in the Becker’s article, Krista Bragg, DNP, CRNA mentions a situation in which a surgeon realized mid-surgery that a C-arm hadn’t been draped—breaking the sterile barrier.1 At the time, the team had developed a sense of what Yue-Yung Hu, MD and Caprice C. Greenburg, MD calls “situational awareness” and brought the surgery to an emergency stop.3 The preparation process was then improved for future surgeries when the team added C-arm draping to the pre-surgery checklist.

Towards a Culture of Safety

According to the Minnesota Hospital Association, the best way to provide good care for patients at all times is to promote a culture of safety in the operating room and the rest of the hospital. Surgeons, the Association argues, must be leaders in this regard.4 This has never been more true than in our modern digital age, when the ubiquity of cellphones and Wi-Fi allows surgeons to check their phones and their social media feeds mid-surgery.5

According to Pacific Standard Magazine, a Texas anesthesiologist lost a patient in 2011 while he was texting and using other apps on his iPad while he was supposed to be monitoring the patient. Though probably one of the most dramatic instances, this is by no means an isolated incident. In fact, according to The Atlantic, such issues have gotten so bad that the ERCI Institute, a nonprofit organization seeking to improve healthcare quality, listed cell phones as one of the top ten potential technological distractors threatening patient safety.5

To correct this problem, The Atlantic recommends changing the culture of the OR to “discourage inappropriate distractions.” 5 This includes not only improving and increasing internal hospital regulations, but also ensuring employee buy-in for the sake of the patients. It doesn’t necessarily mean mobile devices, along with social media access, must be banned. Rather, doctors working in the OR should restrict their mobile usage to essential functions like patient-care issues, allowing them to retain mobile device benefits while discouraging distraction.

Realistic Changes Increase Safety

If a surgery is taking place in an unsterile environment or an operating room full of distracted staff, a positive patient outcome is undoubtedly in jeopardy. It’s clear in an OR setting that quality patient care is dependent on a safe and environment. Through the IntelliCentrics experience, facilities can engage with everyone who will be in the operating room from the surgeon to the anesthesiologist to the local HCIR so that each one understands the role they play in keeping patients safe.

Hospitals can continue to improve the safety of their ORs by focusing on actionable changes such as creating surgical checklists and improving situational awareness among surgery staff. With new distractions available, the culture of safety must factor in personal technology such as phones, tablets, and social media during surgery. By focusing on patient safety through proactive and defensive strategies, the entire team can help operating rooms be safer, more , and more patient-focused.



  1. Becker’s Hospital Review
  2. Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses
  3. Patient Safety in Surgical Oncology: Perspective from the Operating Room
  4. Minnesota Hospital Association
  5. The Atlantic
  6. Pacific Standard Magazine

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