New study finds higher mortality in patients who undergo surgery on their surgeon's birthday

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  • Distractions within operating rooms are common and may have detrimental effects on surgeons’ performance, research suggests
  • A new study has explored whether older patient mortality increased post-surgery on surgeons’ birthdays compared to other days of the year 
  • The researchers analysed the post-operative outcomes of 980 876 procedures on a sample of individuals aged 65 to 99, the study states

A new study investigated the role of distractions, particularly a surgeon’s birthday, on their overall performance. 

Distractions due to noise, problems with surgical equipment and personal events are common within hospital operating rooms. According to previous studies, these distractions can impact a surgeon's performance, such as task completion and surgical accuracy.

A new observational study set out to explore whether patient mortality post-surgery differed between operations performed on surgeons’ birthdays compared to other days of the year.

The findings of the study, which were recently published in The BMJ, concluded that patients who underwent emergency operations on their surgeon’s birthday were at a higher risk of mortality after the procedure.

The study sample

The researchers analysed 980 876 operations performed by 47 489 surgeons. Of these surgeries, 2 064 of them were performed on the surgeons’ birthdays. 

The patient sample consisted of beneficiaries between the ages of 65 and 99 who were registered on the Medicare database, which is an American federal health insurance company for the elderly. 

The surgeon sample was gathered by using the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ file, a national provider identifier which according to the researchers, provided information about the surgeons’ birthday, sex and speciality. 

The researchers analysed emergency procedures, common cardiovascular surgeries such as aortic aneurysm repair and non-cardiovascular procedures such as fractures and spinal fusions, the study states. 

The patients who had operations on their surgeon's birthday were also similar in their comorbidities, procedure type and predicted mortality. 

The researchers concluded that patients’ 30-day post-surgery mortality was higher when surgeries were performed on surgeons’ birthdays compared to patients who underwent surgery on other days of the year. 

Reasons for increased mortality 

There are several reasons as to why patient mortality was higher when surgery was performed on surgeons’ birthdays, the study explains.

One reason for this finding is that surgeons could be under higher time pressure and may feel rushed to complete procedures on time compared to other days of the year. This time pressure might increase the chance of surgical error and intuitive judgement, the researchers state.

Another reason provided by the researchers is that surgeons may permit trainees to do more of the procedure to get home earlier for birthday-related reasons, which could lead to less favourable outcomes post-surgery. 

Moreover, "decision fatigue" due to competing non-work related decisions could also be a factor, according to the study. 

“This could make it harder for surgeons to make appropriate decisions during and after procedures,” the researchers conclude.

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