Operation Notes: A Simple Tweak for a Big Win

If you’re an avid fan of crime dramas, you’ll know how often a seemingly inconsequential piece of evidence can break the case wide open. Similarly, in the medical world, handwritten operation notes can often be pivotal pieces of evidence in medico-legal cases. Their significance, however, can often be undermined by incomplete information, illegible handwriting, and the use of puzzling abbreviations. So how can we ensure that operation notes are as clear and useful as possible? A study by N D Bateman, A S Carney, and K P Gibbin in an otolaryngology unit presents a simple yet effective solution. Let’s dive in!

The Study: An Audit of Operation Notes

The researchers set out to audit 100 sets of operation notes in their otolaryngology department. They meticulously reviewed these notes, checking for accuracy of data, identification of the ward and department, the name of the surgeon, and the presence of any potentially confusing abbreviations.

The researchers then introduced a handy tool to assist surgeons – an aide-memoire or a checklist, attached right to the front of the operation note sheet. After implementing this straightforward tool, they repeated the audit, using the same criteria as before.

The Results: A Significant Improvement

The results were astonishing. With the aide-memoire in place, the quality of operation notes improved in all the measured criteria. The accurate identification of the operating surgeon rose from 74% to a whopping 93%! Moreover, the use of unacceptable abbreviations was considerably reduced, from 47% to just 16%.

What Does This Mean For Us?

This study sheds light on the potential of a simple intervention like an aide-memoire to significantly enhance the quality of operation notes. As the researchers suggest, improved note-keeping can help avoid medico-legal problems in the future. But the benefits don’t stop there.

Improved operation notes mean better communication among healthcare professionals, leading to enhanced patient care. It also ensures proper documentation of surgical procedures, which can be crucial for reference in future cases or even for medical research.

A Final Note

In a world increasingly reliant on complex technological solutions, this study reminds us that sometimes, simplicity is the key. An aide-memoire is a straightforward, low-tech, and cost-effective tool that can bring about a remarkable improvement in the quality of operation notes. It’s time we pay heed to the humble operation note and make sure it receives the care and attention it deserves. After all, in healthcare, every detail, every note, counts.


Bateman ND, Carney AS, Gibbin KP. An audit of the quality of operation notes in an otolaryngology unit. J R Coll Surg Edinb. 1999 Apr;44(2):94-5. PMID: 10230203.

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