Surgical skills affected by previous-day excess alcohol consumption

May, 2011

Simulated laparoscopic surgery was impaired in both novices and experts on the day following an evening during which excessive alcohol was consumed.

Laparoscopic surgery makes intense demands on cognitive, perceptual and visuospatial abilities, rendering it particularly vulnerable to the effects of alcohol (and also making it a sensitive indicator). In a real-world type experiment, students and experts participated in a study looking at the effects of previous-night’s carousing on next-day’s performance on the Minimally Invasive Surgical Trainer Virtual Reality (for which all participants received training, providing baseline scores).

The first experiment involved 16 male final-year science students, of whom 8 were asked to consume alcohol freely at a group dinner, while the other 8 went to a dinner at which no alcohol was served. The second experiment involved eight laparoscopic experts, all of whom were asked to consume alcohol freely at their group dinner. Participants were tested on the simulator the next day at 9:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.

Among the students, those who had consumed excessive alcohol performed considerably worse in terms of time, errors and economy of diathermy (ability to perform technique designed to produce local application of heat), and showed considerable performance variability. Their performance in terms of errors and diathermy was significantly impaired compared to that of the control group. Differences in the time it took participants to perform the tasks were only significant at 9:00 a.m.

Experts were (thankfully!) less impaired by their night out. Nevertheless, they made more errors than they had at baseline, and the difference at 1:00 p.m. was statistically significant. They were also significantly slower during the 1:00 p.m. tests. Performance had returned to baseline levels by 4:00 p.m.

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