Making Surgery Safer…By Keeping Temperatures Warmer

Mark Silverberg M.D. D.D.S.Operationheatjac, LLC – 847-370-4400
or Michael Breen M.D. – 847-840-5261

RELEASE: Immediate

Ashland Community Hospital’s operating rooms are COLD.

“Sometimes it’s like Antarctica just walking in there,” says Tim Burks, the Oregon hospital’s surgical purchaser. Surgeons routinely lower temperatures to 60-66 degrees so they can stay comfortable under warm lights while wrapped in sterile surgical gowns. A sweaty surgeon can put a patient in jeopardy.

However those low temperatures leave the rest of the immobile OR staff shivering under blankets, miserable…and possibly unfocused. Burks says, “We all make more mistakes in the cold and we can’t afford that in an operating room. I want our surgical team to be focused strictly on the patient…not on keeping warm.”

Now Burks has found a Chicago solution being adopted in operating rooms nationwide; an inexpensive “portable warming system” consisting of a warming belt and a special reflective vest that OR staff members wear over their scrub tops and under their warm-up jackets.

The warming system was invented by Dr. Mark Silverberg, a local practicing anesthesiologist for over 30 years. “Patients don’t know we’re all freezing in the OR,” he says. “I always worried that this ongoing distraction jeopardized patient care.”

Dr. Silverberg first had the idea for the portable warming belts over ten years ago. “I just felt awful for myself and everyone else in the OR. We were immobile and shivering during surgery. My first devices were simply scrub jackets with inside pockets to place warmed IV bags. We’ve come a long way since.”

Now sold under the name OPERATIONHEATJAC, Dr. Silverberg offers different versions powered by either stationary transformers or portable battery packs. A third version uses air-activated disposable heating packets. Prices range from $180 to $468.

Burks bought four of the warming devices just two weeks ago. “My OR staff loves them! They say they’re more comfortable and that means more focused” he says. “They’re so popular I’ve already put in an order for more.”

Burks says the devices are also saving the hospital on laundry costs. OR staff members routinely draped themselves with warming blankets intended for patients. That practice has now diminished. Burks is so impressed he intends to recommend the devices be used in his health system’s two other major hospitals as well.

Dr. Silverberg says, “This is a problem that exists in almost every OR in America. The cold temperatures for the staff are so common we haven’t thought about their possible adverse effects on surgical performance.”

Several studies in other settings suggest chilly temperatures do, indeed, decrease performance. (For example, Cornell researchers found office workers made 44% fewer typing errors when temperatures rose from 68 to 77 degrees.[1])

However a major 2006 study on operating room temperatures concluded researchers had yet to study “the thermal comfort of the Staff and their level of productivity and quality of work.”[2] Twelve years later that research is still lacking.

Tim Burks has his own opinion. “The operating room staff is a lot more jovial when they’re wearing the vest. And I don’t think the benefits end there. The real winners are patients. By taking better care of our staff, our patients are receiving safer surgery.”

[1] Presentation at 2004 Eastern Ergonomics Conference & Exposition  Hedge et al

[2] Literature Review of Staff Thermal Comfort and Patient Thermal Risks in Operating Rooms Melhado et al; Int’l Society of Indoor Air Quality and Climate pp. 11-14

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