April 29, 2021

Emotional outcomes of intraoperative deaths on surgical teams

By: Judy Mathias
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Editor's Note

This study from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, finds that intraoperative deaths negatively affect surgical team members, with a considerable number experiencing feelings of anger and depression.

Of 120 OR team members completing a survey, 82 (68.3%) said they had prior experience with intraoperative deaths, referencing more than 300 experiences. A total of 20 (24.4%) believed that at least one of the deaths they experienced could have been prevented.


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When team members were asked which of the five stages of grief they experienced after intraoperative deaths:

  • 71% said acceptance
  • 50% said denial
  • 40% said depression.

More than 60% said they continued working within 24 hours of a death, and they wished to do so. Of 24% who continued working despite not wanting to, 13% said their professional abilities were compromised.

When asked what the hospital could do to better support staff, respondents answered: formalized debriefings, staff check-ins, counseling, and specific training/education.

The findings suggest that sustainable tools must be designed and implemented to support staff after intraoperative deaths, the authors say.

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