Would you want your surgeon drinking before operating on you?

Of course you wouldn't.  And though the incidence of doctors and surgeons drinking the day of a surgery is extremely low, many may be drinking the night before and thinking nothing of it.  However, a new study has shown that this behavior may be contributing to increased medical mistakes and surgical errors.

The Study

The small scale study, done by a professor and his team at the Royal College of Surgeons National Surgical Training center in Dublin, Ireland, has shown that operating skills were impaired as late as 4 PM on the day after the surgeons were drinking. 

During the study surgeons were asked to drink at a dinner party.  They were told to drink until they felt intoxicated and had been cleared of actual medical duties that night and the following day.  The next day they were asked to complete six complicated (simulated) tasks that are routinely performed by laparoscopic surgeons.  Previously, before drinking, they had performed identical tasks.

The Results

The results were shocking.  Though a breathalyzer showed that none of the surgeons were intoxicated the next day, their performance of the tasks was clearly affected.  The surgeons were tested on how long it took them to complete the tasks, how many errors they made per task and the efficiency of a diathermy.

Surgical performance, based on the above criterion, declined significantly.  In particular, their ability to perform a successful diathermy grew worse, not better, as the day progressed.    

Due to the nature of the surgery, the authors concluded that "abstinence from alcohol the night before operating may be a sensible consideration for practicing surgeons".

What should be done?

Though additional studies must be done to confirm the findings, it may be wise to take matters into your own hands before being operated on.  Asking the surgeon if he or she was drinking the night before may help you determine if you are comfortable allowing the doctor to perform the surgery.   


The Virginia medical malpractice attorneys at Tavss Fletcher want to ensure that you have the tools to protect yourself against a medical mistake.  Though doctors should never make errors, they do.  If you have been injured or made ill and believe that a surgical error or medical mistake is to blame, do not wait, contact an experienced lawyer at Tavss Fletcher for your free consultation.