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 22 May 2018

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News

Coping with patient death: the surgeon's perspective

A study in this week's BMJ finds that many surgeons continue to operate on the same day that a patient dies during surgery.

News image

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Suggestions have been made that a surgeon should not operate for a period of 24 hours after such an event, for psychological reasons.

These findings are not surprising, as it has been suggested that surgeons are able to cope with situations that might be thought of as stressful to others, report the authors.

44 orthopedic surgeons were surveyed about their experiences of losing patients during surgery (intraoperative death), based on concerns raised by a recent inquiry and related issues.

Of 31 questionnaires returned, 16 surgeons experienced the death of a patient during surgery, and 13 performed further operations that day.

How should a surgeon cope with intraoperative death?
BMJ

All those who continued to operate felt their competence had not deteriorated.

8 of the surgeons who experienced the death of a patient during surgery felt that some time without operating would have been advisable.

Most surgeons thought counseling should be offered, although the majority of these felt they would not have taken up this offer.

"We were not surprised to find that all but one of the surgeons continued to operate. The prevailing attitude was one of 'it's part of the job'," say the authors.

Clearly, there is no general consensus among the orthopedic surgeons about how to cope with intraoperative death, they conclude.

BMJ 2001; 322: 896-7
17 April 2001

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