20-Jul-2011

Reusable or disposable clothing in the operating theatre?

Clothing type can have an effect on the ability of surgeons to concentrate

Researchers at the Hohenstein Institute in Bönnigheim, Germany and two textile manufacturers have studied the effect of operating theatre clothing on the ability of surgeons to concentrate.

For their own protection and to protect the patient, surgeons at work need to wear special operating theatre clothing that meets certain standard requirements (e.g. EN ISO 13795) and provides an effective barrier against blood and bacteria. Because in an operating theatre the safety of the patient takes precedence, this protective clothing cannot hinder the surgeon at work.

Hospitals currently employ two different strategies: some use disposable operating theatre clothing, which is destroyed after each use; while others use reusable clothing, which is washed after being worn.

The volunteers in a joint study by the Hohenstein Institute and Swiss textile manufacturers Rotecno and Hälg Textil experienced for themselves how tiring highly focused concentration over a long period can be for the surgeons.

The Hohenstein researchers used a computer-based occupational psychology test, which enabled them to measure and record their ability to concentrate.

“Maintaining one's concentration for several hours is a tremendous physical and mental strain, which can be greatly influenced by external parameters like clothing,” said Dirk Höfer, head of the Institute for Hygiene and Biotechnology at Hohenstein.

The researchers measured whether reaction speed and error rate for the volunteers were affected by wearing disposable or reusable clothing in operating theatre conditions. First, the volunteers had to perform a challenging microsurgical task in a specially developed Stressbox.

After the stress phase, both the focused concentration and the ability of the volunteers to multitask were measured.

The results showed significant differences in the reaction time and error rate associated with the two clothing systems. The volunteers who were provided with high-quality reusable clothing generally performed better than those wearing simple disposable clothing. They had a quicker reaction time to optical and acoustic stimuli and a lower error rate. Both have a crucial effect on performance and so, potentially, on the success of a surgical intervention.

The Hohenstein said the test data could be used to provide a scientific basis for clothing choice by hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry, as well as by the armed forces, professional athletes and the aviation industry.

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