Surgical decision making in a teaching hospital: a linguistic analysis

Background: The aim of the study was to gain insight in the involvement of non-operating surgeons in intra-operative surgical decision making at a teaching hospital. The decision to proceed to clip and cut the cystic duct during laparoscopic cholecystectomy was investigated through direct observation of team work.

Method: 11 laparoscopic cholecystectomies performed by consultant surgeons and specialty trainees at a London teaching hospital were audio and video recorded. Talk among the surgical team was transcribed and subjected to linguistic analysis, in conjunction with observational analysis of the video material, sequentially marking the unfolding operation.

Results: Two components of decision making were identified, participation and rationalisation. Participation refers to the degree to which agreement was sought within the surgical team prior to clipping the cystic duct. Rationalisation refers to the degree to which the evidential grounds for clipping and cutting were verbalised.

Conclusion: The decision to clip and cut the cystic duct was jointly made by members of the surgical team, rather than a solitary surgeon in the majority of cases, involving verbal explication of clinical reasoning and verbal agreement. The extent of joint decision making appears to have been mitigated by two factors: trainee’s level of training and duration of the case.

Bezemer, J, G Murtagh, A Cope, K R Kneebone (in press). Surgical decision making in a teaching hospital: A linguistic analysis. ANZ Journal of Surgery.

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