Effects of surgical flow disruptions on surgeons’ resources: A pilot study

B.C.G. Houwelingen*, Anne-Francoise Rutkowski, S. Ganni, P.S. Stepaniak, Jack Jakimowicz

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Minimally invasive surgery requires surgeons to allocate more attention and efforts than open surgery. A surgeon’s pool of resource is affected by the multiple occurrences of interruptions and distractions in the operating room. Surgical flow disruption has been addressed from a quantitative perspective. However, little is known on its impact on the surgeons’ physiological resources.

Three physiological markers, heat flux (HF), energy expenditure in metabolic equivalent of tasks and galvanic skin response were recorded using body sensor monitoring during the 21 surgical operations. The three markers, respectively, represent: stress, energy mobilization and task engagement. A total of 8 surgeons with different levels of expertise (expert vs. novice) were observed performing 21 surgical procedures categorized as short versus long. Factors of distractions were time-stamped, and triangulated with physiological markers. Two cases illustrate the impact of surgical flow disruptions on the surgeons.

The results indicate that expert surgeons’ mental schemata are better organized than novices. Additionally, the physiological markers indicate that novice surgeons display a higher HF at the start (tendency p = .059) and at the end of procedures (p = .001) when compared to experts. However, during longer procedures, expert surgeons have higher HF at the start (p = .041) and at the end (p = .026), than at the start and end of a short procedure.

Data collected during this pilot study showed that interruptions and disruptions affect novice and expert surgeons differently. Surgical flow disruption appears to be taxing on the surgeons’ mental, emotional and physiological resources; as a function of the length and nature of the disruptions. Several training curricula have incorporated the use of virtual reality programs to train surgeons to cope with the new technology and equipment. We recommend integrating interruptions and distractions in virtual reality training programs as these impact the surgeons’ pool of resources.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4525-4535
JournalSurgical Endoscopy
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2020


  • surgical flow
  • distractions
  • physiological markers
  • mental and physiological resources
  • team training


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