Medical Error Avoidance in Intraoperative Neurophysiological Monitoring: The Communication Imperative
Error avoidance in medicine follows similar rules that apply within the design and operation of other complex systems. The error-reduction concepts that best fit the conduct of testing during intraoperative neuromonitoring are forgiving design (reversibility of signal loss to avoid/prevent injury) and system redundancy (reduction of false reports by the multiplication of the error rate of tests independently assessing the same structure). However, error reduction in intraoperative neuromonitoring is complicated by the dichotomous roles (and biases) of the neurophysiologist (test recording and interpretation) and surgeon (intervention). This “interventional cascade” can be given as follows: test → interpretation → communication → intervention → outcome. Observational and controlled trials within operating rooms demonstrate that optimized communication, collaboration, and situational awareness result in fewer errors. Well-functioning operating room collaboration depends on familiarity and trust among colleagues. Checklists represent one method to initially enhance communication and avoid obvious errors. All intraoperative neuromonitoring supervisors should strive to use sufficient means to secure situational awareness and trusted communication/collaboration. Face-to-face audiovisual teleconnections may help repair deficiencies when a particular practice model disallows personal operating room availability. All supervising intraoperative neurophysiologists need to reject an insular or deferential or distant mindset.