Listening to music in the operating theatre may not be as beneficial as thought, with evidence of loud dance or drum and bass music being played loudly during procedures, health experts have said.

Research published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing said communication between surgeons and nurses can be impaired when music is playing.

Surgical teams were filmedcarrying out procedures to analyse the effects of music being played, and found requests from surgeons to nurses for instruments or supplies were often repeated, while there was evidence of frustration or tension within some of the teams.

Video recordings from multiple cameras placed at strategic points gave researchers an insight into the verbal and non-verbal communications between clinicians as operations were carried out.

Twenty operations lasting a total of 35 hours were analysed, 70 per cent of which had music playing.

They found that how the music was played and controlled was important too. If playback volume from digital sources was not standardised, there could be sudden increases in volume between tracks. Sometimes staff turned up a popular song, again leading to a sudden increase in volume that could mask instructions and other verbal communications.

Researchers suggested the decision to play music during an operation should be made by the entire team, taking into account both the benefits and the risks.

Co-lead author Sharon-Marie Weldon, from the department of surgery and cancer at Imperial College London, said: “Music can be helpful to staff working in operating theatres where there is often a lot of background noise, as well as other distractions – it can improve concentration.

“That said, we’d like to see a more considered approach, with much more discussion or negotiation over whether music is played, the type of music, and volume, within the operating teams.”

Terhi Korkiakangas, the other lead author, from UCL’s (University College London) Institute of Education, said: “In the operating theatres we observed, it was usually the senior medics of the team who made the decision about background music.

“Without a standard practice of the team deciding together, it is left up to junior staff and nurses to speak up and challenge the decisions of senior doctors, which can be extremely daunting.”

They said music was first introduced into operating theatres in 1914 to relieve the anxiety of patients.

These days patients are placed under anaesthetic outside of the theatre and so music is routinely played for the benefit of clinical staff.

New theatre suites are often equipped with docking stations and MP3 players and portable speakers are routinely used during operations.

Korkiakangas added: “Public perception of music in operating theatres is shaped by media portrayals of surgical teams always working to a background of smooth music.

“We found that often dance and drum and bass were played fairly loudly.”

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