A study examining outcomes of heart and lung transplant surgery has concluded that patients fare essentially the same whether the transplants are performed during the day or at night. Two smaller previous studies – one on kidney transplants and the other on liver transplants – had indicated that patients tended to fare worse if the operations took place in the middle of the night.
The new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, took into account all of the nearly 30,000 heart and lung transplants performed in the United States over 10 years. Researchers were surprised by the results, which indicated that, contrary to conventional wisdom, patient outcomes had little to do with the time of the operation or the fatigue of the surgeon. Rather, they seemed to hinge on the reliability of the surgical team.
Unlike surgeons in other specialties, cardiothoracic surgeons almost always work in the operating room with the same team of highly specialized anesthesiologists, nurses, physician assistants and technicians. The team’s familiarity with and constant repetition of the same complex steps – placing patients on bypass machines, performing certain intraoperative studies, even executing specific suture sequences – may be the key to ensuring consistent performance, whatever the time of day.
When performing a transplant, “the surgeon isn’t doing a complicated operation in the middle of the night with an anesthesiologist who usually staffs gynecology procedures and a nurse who works in the orthopedic operating rooms during the day,” says Dr. Ashish Shah, a co-author of the study and assistant professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “We need to think about doctors less like airline pilots and more like a part of a special forces military team. Those teams carry out complex tasks at a very high level and under less than ideal physiologic or environmental conditions.”
Source: The New York Times
You can read an abstract of the study here.