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Why Poor Illumination Can Put Your Patients and Your Business at Risk

Why Poor Illumination Can Put Your Patients and Your Business at Risk

Lighting does more than illuminate; it boosts form and function, improves safety and security and establishes a favorable environment for work. Operating rooms (OR) around the globe use different lights ranging from decades-old lights to modern technology lights to meet their illumination needs.

OR professionals require appropriate surgical lighting-without shadows and glare- to accurately conduct procedures on the operating table. Effective surgical lighting lets surgeons use their most important asset –eyes- accurately and effectively. With the right combination of lighting, OR can optimize visual performance and comfort and hence improve performance, increase patient safety, and enhance health professionals job satisfaction. Poor lighting in the OR has adverse effects on surgeons, patients, and health organizations.

Effects for Surgeons

A surgeon at Duke University Medical Center contends the following regarding quality lighting in the OR.

“Lighting is the most important part of the surgery, especially when performing delicate surgeries. If you don’t have good lighting, you can’t see what you are doing.”

Another surgeon from the Northwestern Memorial Hospital affirms the following concerning the importance of high-quality surgical lighting.

“Lighting is vital especial when conducting minimally invasive spine surgery. If you can’t see what you are doing, you increase the probability of hurting a patient.”

These surgeons echo the concern of many surgeons around the globe who emphasize the importance of good lighting in the OR. In a surgeon survey carried out at National Association of Spinal Surgeons (NASS) in 2017, 100% of surgeons stated that quality lighting is essential to the safety and efficiency of surgeries especially lateral, deep cavity, and minimally invasive procedures. 94% of surgeons profess that good lighting in the cavity has positive outcomes for improving surgery and reducing risk. Poor lighting has many detrimental effects on surgeons. Below are some of them;

Unnecessary Stress

Poor illumination causes unnecessary stress on the surgeon and his team because they have to keep adjusting the light to fit their needs. Such adjustments take up time that would otherwise be used to concentrate on the procedure. This means that patients will spend more time on the operating table; this time would have been used on other patients. Additionally, time is money and lost time translates to increased costs.

Eye Strain and Fatigue

Poor illumination causes eyestrain and fatigue among surgeons. When lighting is too much –not always the best- it fatigues a surgeon’s eyes and results in glare. Good surgical lights provide the right amount of illumination for surgery and the correct patch size. Eyestrain and fatigue increase the probability of errors and incorrect assessments.

Poor Tissue Discrimination

Poor illumination compromises the ability of surgeons to distinguish between tissues. Good surgical lighting offers good tissue discrimination by offering light that reveals colors faithfully.

Surgeon Safety

Poor quality surgical lighting is a significant occupational work hazard that can affect surgeon safety. Some surgeons report needle-stick injuries because they can’t see well in the OR which exposes them to all kinds of infections.

Low Productivity

Imagine an operating room where the surgeon is struggling to see the surgery site and is uncomfortable because of excess heat. How many surgeries can such surgeon conduct in a day? You have guessed right, not so many. Poor illumination in the OR decreases the productivity of OR professionals because the working conditions are unfavorable. In the long run, surgeons and their teams get burnout resulting in high turnover rates.

Effects on Patients

Patient Safety Risk

surgery in modern operating room without poor illumination

Poor illumination presents a patient safety risk. Among the common safety issues associated with poor lighting in the OR include unintended blood loss, accidental intestinal spillage, and inadvertent nerve damage. A study conducted on the impact of surgical lighting on intraoperative safety in low resource setting sheds light on the effect of poor lighting on patient safety. One surgeon affirms that during a cesarean section, a patient experienced excessive hemorrhage because he could not see the bleeders (blood vessels) as a result of poor lighting.

Poor Patient Outcomes

Poor illumination culminates to poor patient outcomes. This is particularly evident in cases of delayed and canceled operations. For example, if a patient needs emergency surgery and it is delayed due to poor lighting, his condition could worsen, or in extreme cases, he could die. Also, poor patient outcomes emanate from patients spending loads of time in the operating table. This comes from OR professionals spending much time adjusting lights and decreased productivity due to eyestrains and fatigue. Poor patient outcomes translate to low patient satisfaction and low retention rates.


Low-quality illumination in the OR increases the likelihood of errors. It compromises the visibility of the surgery site resulting in mistakes; some that can be lethal. One surgeon in a certain study reports that he damaged a patient’s recurrent laryngeal nerve due to poor visibility.

Effects on Hospitals

Increased Costs

When surgeons and their team spend much time adjusting lights in the OR, it translates to expensive operating time being wasted. If lights have to be adjusted on every procedure being done, a hospital can lose thousands or even millions of dollars annually. One study reveals that OR professionals spend 25% of surgical time adjusting lights in response to changing needs like the operation proceeds. The approximate cost for one minute of operating time is £15. If an operation lasts one hour -60minutes- a hospital loses £225. This cost is for one operation; the cost increases with the number of operations conducted which adds up to thousands of dollars if not millions annually. In addition to these costs, hospitals incur the costs of high staff turnover, staff absenteeism due to stress and fatigue, surgical errors, and low patient satisfaction. This may take a toll on the hospital’s reputation and credibility.


The OR is a demanding environment that requires communication, efficiency, expertise, precision, and quality lighting. Effective surgical lighting has positive effects for patients, surgeons, and hospitals. It enhances patient safety, increases surgeons productivity and safety, and reduces costs for hospitals. In line with this, hospitals must invest in high-quality surgical lights to improve outcomes for all stakeholders. LED lighting has proved to be a good solution to the poor illumination problem in many ORs. Contact us at obp for more information about patient care and hospital equipment.

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