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Lust for life, or another one bites the dust?

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Patients might be forgiven for feeling a little unnerved if “The Final Countdown” is blaring from the speakers when they are wheeled into the operating theatre.

But is it helpful, or off-putting, for those doing the operating? Recent studies suggest both.

A small study, published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, filmed 20 operations at two British hospitals to observe the music habits of surgeons.

Researchers placed multiple cameras at strategic points around the operating room to observe verbal and non-verbal communication between staff and found that, at times, playing music in the operating theatre can be disruptive and surgeons should think twice about pressing the play button.

Music was played in 16 out of the 20 operations observed, and usually senior doctors were in charge of the play list.

Dance music and drum and bass based music were often played fairly loudly, with popular tracks sometimes cranked up, making talking more difficult. In one operation, a scrub nurse asked the surgeon to turn the music down because she was finding it hard to count how many swabs had been used.

The UK Royal College of Surgeons said if music is played during surgery it must not be distracting.

Lead researcher Sharon-Marie Weldon said that music can be helpful to staff working in operating theatres where there is often a lot of background noise. However, she recommended that there be a considered approach based on discussion or negotiation about whether music was played, the type of music and the volume it was played at.

In a separate study, more than 80 per cent of theatre staff reported that music helped them while carrying out operations.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal late last year, found that music is played between 62-72 per cent of the time in the operating theatres. As with the Journal of Advanced Nursing study, songs were most often chosen by the lead surgeon.

Theatre staff reported that surgical performance was enhanced when music was played, and that it improved communication, reduced anxiety and improved efficiency.

The researchers said that critics often argue that music consumes cognitive bandwidth, reduces vigilance, impairs communication, and proves a distraction when anaesthetic problems are encountered. However, they encouraged surgeons to embrace music in the operating theatre whenever the situation allowed it.

Kirsty Waterford