Communication in the Cardiac Operating Room

Ross Ungerleider, MD, MBA, Jamie Dickey Ungerleider, MSW, PhD


Over the past decade, there has been increasing emphasis on improving communication between members of the cardiac operating room TEAM as a pathway to improved patient safety and patient outcomes. Some of these works have been based on practical and sensible approaches to communication in general, while others have been written for and directed primarily to the cardiac operating room.[1],[2],[3],[4],[5] One chapter, written several years ago by the author of this chapter (RMU), was written specifically from the perspective of a chief of perfusion for a busy academic cardiothoracic surgery program.[6]

The common lesson in all of these articles is that best patient care, with improved outcomes and safety, relies upon the ability of the members of the operating room TEAM to communicate openly, honestly, and in a manner that invites participation, considers differing perspectives, and that reflects the principle and “cultural norm” that all members of the TEAM are valuable and important.[7]

It is not the intention of this brief chapter to provide a detailed review of concepts that create this type of highly resonant TEAM communication, but it is our intention to emphasize the critical importance of developing a psychologically safe environment for communication, especially during times of challenge or stress.[2],[7],[8],[9]

It is incumbent upon the cardiothoracic surgery operating room TEAM leaders to create an environment in which all TEAM members feel “seen, heard, understood, and valued.” Many different strategies allow TEAMS to accomplish this objective., The leader who spends time learning and practicing tools that invite safety, learning, and belonging, will be rewarded with high performance and more bandwidth for the TEAM to manage stress and challenge.[9]

Below are some very basic principles that surgical TEAM leaders can integrate into their culture, embrace as cultural norms, and provide continuing education around as they try to teach and encourage highly resonant teamwork.

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Last updated: September 2, 2021