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Managing and avoiding delay in operating theatres: a qualitative, observational study


Higgins, V and Bryant, MJ and Villanueva, EV and Kitto, SC, Managing and avoiding delay in operating theatres: a qualitative, observational study, Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, 19, (1) pp. 162-166. ISSN 1356-1294 (2013) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

Copyright 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd. This is the peer reviewed version of the following article, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

DOI: doi:10.1111/j.1365-2753.2011.01787.x


Rationale, aims and objectives A range of strategies have been proposed to identify and address operating theatre delays, including preoperative checklists, post‐delay audits and staff education. These strategies provide a useful starting point in addressing delay, but their effectiveness can be increased through more detailed consideration of sources of surgical delay.

Method A qualitative, observational study was conducted at two Australian hospitals, one a metropolitan site and the other a regional hospital. Thirty surgeries were observed involving general, vascular and orthopaedic procedures which ranged in time from 20 minutes to almost 4 hours. Approximately 40 hours of observations were conducted in total.

Results The research findings suggest that there are two key challenges involved in addressing operating theatre delays: unanticipated problems in the clinical condition of patients, and the capacity of surgeons to regulate their own time. These challenges create unavoidable delays due to the contingencies of surgical work and competing demands on surgeons' time. The results also found that surgical staff play a critical role in averting and anticipating delays. Differences in professional authority are significant in influencing how operating theatre time is managed.

Conclusions Strategies aimed at addressing operating theatre delays are unlikely to achieve their desired aims without a more detailed understanding of medical decision making and work practices, and the intra‐ as well as inter‐professional hierarchies underpinning them. While the nature of surgical work poses some challenges for measures designed to address delays, it is also necessary to focus on surgical practice in devising workable solutions.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:operating theatres, delays, qualitative research
Research Division:Human Society
Research Group:Sociology
Research Field:Sociology not elsewhere classified
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding knowledge in the health sciences
UTAS Author:Higgins, V (Professor Vaughan Higgins)
ID Code:138165
Year Published:2013
Web of Science® Times Cited:5
Deposited By:Office of the School of Social Sciences
Deposited On:2020-03-26
Last Modified:2020-06-12
Downloads:22 View Download Statistics

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