Communication in the Operating Theatre

Communication in the Operating Theatre. Weldon, S-M., Korkiakangas, T., Bezemer, J. & Kneebone, R. (2013).
 British Journal of Surgery, 100(13), 1677-1688.

Background: Communication is extremely important to ensure safe and effective clinical practice. A systematic literature review of observational studies addressing communication in the operating theatre was conducted. The focus was on observational studies alone in order to gain an understanding of actual communication practices, rather than what was reported through recollections and interviews.

Methods: A systematic review of the literature for accessible published and grey literature was performed in July 2012. The following information was extracted: year, country, objectives, methods, study design, sample size, healthcare professional focus and main findings. Quality appraisal was conducted using the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme. A meta-ethnographic approach was used to categorize further the main findings under key concepts.

Results: Some 1174 citations were retrieved through an electronic database search, reference lists and known literature. Of these, 26 were included for review after application of full-text inclusion and exclusion criteria. The overall quality of the studies was rated as average to good, with 77 per cent of the methodological quality assessment criteria being met. Six key concepts were identified: signs of effective communication, signs of communication problems, effects on teamwork, conditions for communication, effects on patient safety and understanding collaborative work.

Conclusion: Communication was shown to affect operating theatre practices in all of the studies reviewed. Further detailed observational research is needed to gain a better understanding of how to improve the working environment and patient safety in theatre.

Nurse-surgeon object transfer: Video Analysis of Communication and Situation Awareness in the Operating Theatre

Korkiakangas, T., Weldon, S-M., Bezemer, J., & Kneebone, R. (2014). Nurse-surgeon object transfer: Video analysis of communication and situation awareness in the operating theatre. International Journal of Nursing Studies, 51(9), 1195-1206. doi:10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2014.01.007


One of the most central collaborative tasks during surgical operations is the passing of objects, including instruments. Little is known about how nurses and surgeons achieve this. The aim of the present study was to explore what factors affect this routine-like task, resulting in fast or slow transfer of objects.


A qualitative video study, informed by an observational ethnographic approach, was conducted in a major teaching hospital in the UK. A total of 20 general surgical operations were observed. In total, approximately 68 h of video data have been reviewed. A subsample of 225 min has been analysed in detail using interactional video-analysis developed within the social sciences.


Two factors affecting object transfer were observed: (1) relative instrument trolley position and (2) alignment. The scrub nurse’s instrument trolley position (close to vs. further back from the surgeon) and alignment (gaze direction) impacts on the communication with the surgeon, and consequently, on the speed of object transfer. When the scrub nurse was standing close to the surgeon, and “converged” to follow the surgeon’s movements, the transfer occurred more seamlessly and faster (<1.0 s) than when the scrub nurse was standing further back from the surgeon and did not follow the surgeon’s movements (>1.0 s).


The smoothness of object transfer can be improved by adjusting the scrub nurse’s instrument trolley position, enabling a better monitoring of surgeon’s bodily conduct and affording early orientation (awareness) to an upcoming request (changing situation). Object transfer is facilitated by the surgeon’s embodied practices, which can elicit the nurse’s attention to the request and, as a response, maximise a faster object transfer. A simple intervention to highlight the significance of these factors could improve communication in the operating theatre.