Original Communications| Volume 132, ISSUE 5, P826-835, November 2002

New strategies to prevent laparoscopic bile duct injury—surgeons can learn from pilots


      Background. Injury to the bile ducts is the most important complication of laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC), affecting approximately 2000 patients annually in the United States. Traditional surgical teaching fails to provide adequate extrabiliary reference points. A “person approach” of blame and shame (as distinct from a “system approach”) has evidently been unsuccessful in controlling this problem. New strategies are needed. High-reliability organizations such as aviation and the nuclear power industry have well-developed system-based error prevention programs; the application to laparoscopic operations of some principles used in these programs merits evaluation. In addition, some time-honored teaching of steps to safeguard the bile duct needs to be re-examined. Methods. A review of the literature and of 34 cases of bile duct injury referred to the author was carried out. Traditional surgical teaching was evaluated to identify reasons why it has failed to prevent bile duct injury. New extrabiliary reference points were used. Error prevention strategies derived from the aviation and maritime industries were modified for application to LC. These principles have been applied in a prospective study of 2000 successive LCs carried out on 1 surgical unit, including operations by surgical trainees. Results. The literature and case review indicated that misidentification of biliary anatomy was the major cause of bile duct injury and the injury was unrecognized by the operating surgeon in 3 out of 4 cases, suggesting that traditional surgical teaching provides inadequate reference points to prevent duct misidentification, that spatial disorientation analogous to navigation errors occurs, and that systemic factors predisposing to error are present. Several principles used in navigation were applied. “Human factors,” educational principles derived from aviation crew resource management training, were applied. No bile duct injuries occurred in the 2000 LC operations. Eight patients had biliary leakage develop but all recovered without further surgical intervention. Conclusions. Laparoscopic bile duct injury continues to occur at an unacceptable rate. New strategies involving a system approach and using principles adopted by the aviation and maritime industries were applied in 2000 consecutive LCs without bile duct injury. The application in the operating room of commonly taught navigation principles, the use of extrabiliary reference points such as Rouvière's sulcus, and the introduction of human factors education for surgeons reduces the frequency of bile duct injury. (Surgery 2002;132:826-35.)
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