Jeff Segal, MD, JD, FACS

The April edition of Archives of Surgery confirms the answer to a nagging scientific question. Can hungover surgeons perform adroitly? I had guessed that a metaphorical ice-pick in the temple would have an impact. Now we know the answer. It matters.

The study was performed in Ireland – focusing on minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery. The test involved a surgical simulator the day after drinking (or for the control group – day after abstinence).

The experimental group was allowed to drink as much as they wanted. The only rule: each participant needed to show up to a group dinner with at least one investigator to “determine intoxication levels.” I suspect this was a subjective interpretation.

Baseline performance on Minimally Invasive Surgical Trainer Virtual Reality (MIST-VR) system was established the day before group dinners.

Performance was measured the day after drinking at 9AM, 1PM, and 4PM.

Drum roll for the results…

More errors were noted for the drinking group at all three times; but only the 1PM measurement was statistically significant.

Interestingly, the doctors performed the procedure faster after excessive drinking, compared to later in the day. The authors attributed this to decreased inhibition as opposed to better performance.

One commenter on the study suggested many things affect performance – and that everyone is “impaired” at some point of time.

The commenter continued: “It’s plausible to think a splitting headache or sleep deprivation would affect attention and conscientiousness, even skipping meals, fighting with a spouse, looming debt, a sick family member.”


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