Surgical Techniques

OR safety and efficiency: Measuring and monitoring all factors—including surgical volume

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Human, nontechnical, and environmental factors may be as critical as surgeons’ experience and skills in OR safety and efficiency. Case volume of the individual surgeon and institution also may play a role.



The operating room (OR) is a key contributor to a hospital’s profitability. It is a complex environment with ever-advancing technology. A successful surgery completed without complications within an optimal time depends not only on the surgeon’s experience, skills, and knowledge but also on numerous other structural, human, and nontechnical factors over which the surgeon has limited control.

As in any setting that deals with human life, in the OR, team dynamics, communication, and environment play a major role. Research has indicated the benefits of dedicated teams, reduced handoffs, and innovative modalities that continuously and systematically monitor potential breakdowns and propose solutions for the detected problems.

Finally, who should perform your loved one’s hysterectomy? This article also attempts to address the impact of surgeons’ and hospitals’ volume on operative outcomes with a diminishing number of hysterectomies but an increasing number of approaches.

Human factors in the OR

Human factors research was born as a product of the industrial revolution and mass production. It aims to optimize human experience and improve system performance by studying how humans interact with system. The aviation industry, for example, minimized errors significantly by using methods developed by human factors scientists. As another industry with no tolerance for mistakes, the health care sector followed suit. Ultimately, the goal of human factors research in health care is to improve patient safety, optimize work and environment, reduce costs, and enhance employees’ physical and mental health, engagement, comfort, and quality of life (FIGURE 1).1

Today’s OR is so complex that it is hard to understand its dynamics without human factors research. Every new OR technology is first tested in controlled and simulated environments to determine “work as imagined.” However, it is necessary to study “work as done” in the real world via direct observation, video recording, questionnaires, and semistructured interviews by an on-site multidisciplinary team. This process not only focuses on surgical skills, process efficiency, and outcomes but also monitors the entire process according to Human Factors and Ergonomics Engineering principles to explore otherwise hidden complexities and latent safety concerns. The Systems Engineering Initiative for Patient Safety (SEIPS) framework is used to study the impact of interactions between people, tasks, technologies, environment, and organization.1

Robot-assisted surgery (RAS), an increasingly popular surgical approach among gynecologic surgeons, recently has been the focus of human factors science. A robotic OR poses unique challenges: the surgeon is not scrubbed, is removed from the operating table, and controls a complex highly technologic device in a crowded and darkened room. These are ideal conditions waiting to be optimized by human factor experts. To demonstrate the importance of human factors in the OR, we review the evidence for RAS.

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