NASA-Task Load Index Differentiates Surgical Approach: Opportunities for Improvement in Colon and Rectal Surgery

Katherine E. Law, Bethany R. Lowndes, Scott R. Kelley, Renaldo C. Blocker, David W. Larson, M. Susan Hallbeck, Heidi Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Objective:Surgeon workload, or human "cost" of performing a procedure, is not well understood in light of emerging surgical technologies. This pilot study quantified surgeon workload for colorectal procedures and identified patient, surgeon, and procedural factors impacting workload.Summary Background Data:Innovative technologies and procedures in surgery have generally been promoted for the advancement of patient care. The resulting surgeon workload is poorly studied with little knowledge of the contributing factors impacting workload.Methods:Surgeons completed NASA-Task Load Index (NASA-TLX) questionnaires to self-assess workload following abdominopelvic colon and rectal procedures. Corresponding patient data were retrieved from the medical record. Descriptive statistics, correlations, and ANOVA were performed to compare surgeon and patient factors, procedure type, and surgical approach on workload overall and by subscales.Results:Seven attending surgeons rated 238 surgeries, of which 218 (92%) had corresponding patient data. Surgeon experience and patient demographics had inconsistent effects on workload. A statistically significant 3-way interaction was identified among disease process, procedure type, and surgical approach on workload (F(9, 146) = 2.17, P = 0.027), but was limited to open procedures for neoplasia and inflammatory bowel disease patients. Proctectomy and colectomy procedures compared across open, laparoscopic, and robotic approaches showed significant differences in overall workload and subscales, where the robotic procedures required significantly less mental demand, physical demand, and effort, than open or laparoscopic (P < 0.05).Conclusions:Patient characteristics, disease process, and surgical experience had inconsistent effects on surgeon workload. Major differences in workload were identified for procedure type and surgical approach, where robotic procedures required less mental demand, physical demand, and effort.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)906-912
Number of pages7
JournalAnnals of surgery
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • cognitive demand
  • human factors
  • laparoscopy
  • open surgery
  • physical demand
  • robotic-assisted surgery
  • workload

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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