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Managing unforeseen events in anesthesia: collective trade-off between “understanding” and “doing”


This study aims to describe how anesthesia teams handle unforeseen events that may affect the patients’ health. More precisely, it investigates the mechanisms of decisions made by anesthesia teams to manage unthought-of situations, i.e. situations that have not been foreseen as “possible” ones before their occurrence. An empirical study, based on the analysis of simulated situations, was conducted in a pediatric anesthesia service of a university hospital in France. The results highlighted three ways of managing unthought-of situations (determined management, cautious management and overwhelmed management). They support the hypothesis of a collective cognitive trade-off, whereby teams would behave as virtual operators, with their own collective trade-off between "understanding" and "doing". The discussion of the results questions the assessment criteria, the safety perspectives we adopt and the possible ways to improve the management of unforeseen situations.