Conference Coverage

OR staff perception of safety linked to better surgical outcomes


Key clinical point: Perceptions of safety among operating room personnel may influence postoperative death rates.

Major finding: Higher scores for key teamwork variables were associated with decreases in postoperative hospital death rates ranging from 14% to 29%.

Data source: Survey responses of 1,793 operating room personnel at 31 member hospitals of the South Carolina Hospital Association.

Disclosures: Dr. Molina reported no financial disclosures. Dr. Dimick is cofounder of Arbor Metrix and receives royalties.


PHILADELPHIA – No large-scale study has evaluated the culture of operating room safety and 30-day postoperative death, but a statewide evaluation of South Carolina hospitals found that those in which operating-room personnel perceived a high degree of safety reported lower all-cause 30-day postoperative mortality rates.

“Reducing postoperative death rates and improving patient safety require that, in addition to technical competence, surgeons lead surgical teams in ways that foster the creation of a culture in operating rooms where personnel feel respected and invited to speak up on behalf of patient safety,” George Molina, MD, MPH, said at the annual meeting of the American Surgical Association. Dr. Molina is with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.

Dr. George Molina, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston

Dr. George Molina

The study objective was to evaluate whether the perceived culture of surgical safety among operating personnel, based on survey responses, is associated with hospital-level 30-day postoperative death.

The study drew on a statewide quality and safety program of the South Carolina Hospital Association known as Safe Surgery 2015, one component of which was a survey sent to operating-room (OR) personnel to measure baseline culture of surgical safety. The survey evaluated five teamwork factors: mutual respect, clinical leadership, assertiveness, coordination, and effective communication. The overall response rate of OR staff at 31 surveyed hospitals was 38.1% with 1,793 completed surveys, with a physicians response rate of 29%.

The researchers analyzed statewide claims data of nearly all surgery in the state (except for operations at Veterans Affairs, military and Shriners’ centers) and a state-level death registry to identify patients who died within 30 days after an inpatient operation. The unadjusted median 30-day postoperative death rate at the 31 participating hospitals was 3.2%, Dr. Molina said.

The study evaluated the association between hospital-level mean scores for each survey statement and postoperative death, and used machine learning to adjust for potential confounders. The analysis also took into account hospital-level variables such as patient gender, Charlson Comorbidity Index, primary payer status, and procedure type.

“Among the factors that make up the teamwork dimension, respect, leadership and assertiveness on behalf of patient safety were significantly associated with lower 30-day postoperative death rates,” Dr. Molina said. “For every one-point increase on a seven-point Likert scale and the hospital level mean score for respect, clinical leadership, and assertiveness among all survey respondents, there were associated decreases in postoperative mortality following surgery, ranging from 14% to 29%.”

Of the five teamwork variables, assertiveness had the lowest relative risk, 0.71 (P = .01), whereas communication had the highest, 0.98 (P = .77).

Dr. Molina noted a number of limitations to the study, such as the inability to generalize findings from a single state and the use of cross-sectional data, which precludes a causal link between culture and mortality. “Postoperative mortality is most likely due to multiple factors that take place not only in the operating room, but also during the course of preoperative and postoperative course,” he said.

In his discussion, Justin Dimick, MD, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, asked Dr. Molina what interventions beyond OR checklists are available to improve safety culture.

“It’s not a matter of changing perceptions but actually changing behaviors and then actually improving the culture,” Dr. Molina said. OR team training that includes simulated emergency response is one such intervention. Other strategies he offered: “Working on communication, in particular closed-loop communication among health care providers working in the operating room, and then also quality and safety programs such as Safe Surgery 2015.”

Dr. Molina reported no financial disclosures. Dr. Dimick is cofounder of Arbor Metrix and receives royalties.

The complete manuscript of this study and its presentation at the American Surgical Association’s 137th Annual Meeting, April 2017, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is anticipated to be published in the Annals of Surgery pending editorial review.

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