Distractions in the Anesthesia Work Environment: Impact on Patient Safety

Maria Magro, PhD, CRNA; Matthew Weinger, MD

Distractions in the perioperative work environment can be attributed to many sources. When considering distractions, one must distinguish those that are externally imposed from those that are internally motivated. Many of the externally imposed distractions may be considered interruptions from the environment, other team members, or technology. Internally motivated distractions, those under the complete control of the anesthesia professional, may include patient care-related (looking up lab results on the EMR) or non-patient care-related (texting a friend about dinner plans) activities. The anesthesia professional can choose to immediately react to, to defer responding to, or to ignore internal and/or external distractions. All types of distractions can affect vigilance, situational awareness, and the ability to respond promptly to changes in the patient’s condition that, in turn, can pose a risk to patient safety.

APSF believes that the role of both external and self-induced distractions and potential adverse effects needs to be addressed through open discussion, education, research, the review and potential revision of policy statements, and possibly other yet unidentified interventions. To make progress in this area, APSF held a conference entitled “Distractions in the Anesthesia Work Environment: Impact on Patient Safety” in Phoenix, AZ on September 7, 2016. The Conference’s goal was to 1) delineate the most important types of external and self-induced distractions occurring in anesthesia professionals’ different work environments; 2) identify those distractions most likely to pose patient safety risks (i.e., high-risk distractions); and 3) develop recommendations for decreasing the incidence of high-risk distractions and to reduce the risk to patient safety when distractions of all types occur. A full report of the findings from this important conference will appear in the next (June 2017) APSF Newsletter.


Matthew Weinger, MD, currently serves as Secretary of the Executive Committee of the APSF and is Professor of Anesthesiology at Vanderbilt University.

Maria Magro, PhD, CRNA, currently serves on the Executive Committee of the APSF and chairs the Committee on Education and Training of the APSF. She is an Associate Clinical Professor and Nurse Anesthesia Program Director at Northeastern University, Boston, MA.

Neither author has any disclosures related to this article.