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Summary for General Public

The study addresses a key challenge for the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom (UK) and other major organizations across the world by investigating professional communication in ‘transient’ teams-that is, communication between professionals who work on recurring tasks, such as surgical operations, in teams that exist only for the duration of the task, or even only for parts of it. Increasingly healthcare professionals step in and out of such newly formed teams, participating in the performance of complex tasks, often with colleagues whom they have never met before. That has a profound effect on their work. Members of transient teams do not always know each other well, as they used to when these teams were much more stable. Our recent observational research in the operating theatre has shown a glimpse of how this impacts on the communication between nurses and surgeons. For instance, a misunderstanding arose about the name of an instrument that a surgeon had requested. As a result, the instrument that this surgeon prefers to work with was not pre-ordered and unavailable at the operation. Such misunderstandings can have real consequences for patient- safety, staff well-being, and the overall quality of healthcare. That is why we aim to study the implications of transient teams for communication in a two-year study at a major teaching hospital in England. We will build on our prior and ongoing research in this hospital and systematically record, analyze and address in detail the communication between nurses and surgeons in the operating theatre-not only problems of communication that arise, but also the instances where their interaction is highly effective. We will audio and video record operations and compare patterns of communication between nurses and surgeons who have worked together for more than 18 months, and surgeons and nurses who have worked together for less than 3 months. That way we can find out the effect of clinicians’ history of collaboration on their communication. Once we know that, clinicians, policy makers and healthcare managers can develop ways to deal with the challenges of communicating in transient teams. We will show some of our video clips to the nurses and surgeons who feature in them and, with their permission, use some of these clips for training purposes. We will present our findings to clinicians across the UK and abroad, in specially designed workshops. We hope that by raising awareness of communication in the operating theatre, ultimately, our study will help improve patient safety. We will inform the public about our project on a website. We will also disseminate our findings to academic beneficiaries, in journal articles and conference presentations, especially those who are interested in working, communicating and learning at the workplace. Our research team is a unique collaboration between surgeons, nurses, and a range of social science researchers with professional experience and expertise in communication and education in clinical settings.

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