Doctors interrupted at work give shorter and poorer care to patients

May 13, 2010

Hospital doctors who are frequently interrupted while working in a clinical environment spend less time on tasks and fail to return to almost a fifth of their jobs in hand, reveals research published ahead of print in the journal Quality and Safety in Health Care.

Hospital environments are known for being busy areas with many interruptions and multi-tasking by staff and there are concerns that these can introduce potential for clinical errors to be made.

Previous research has not measured what impact interruptions have on trying to work, so researchers from Australia carried out a time and motion study of an in a 400-bed teaching hospital, observing 40 doctors over different weekday sessions, totalling a period of 210 hours.

They found that, on average, doctors were interrupted 6.6 times an hour and 11% of all tasks were interrupted.

Doctors multi-tasked for 12.8% of the time and the average time spent on a task was 1.26 minutes.

These interruptions - such as a doctor being asked a question by a colleague while they were trying to write a prescription - meant that doctors, when they did return to the job in hand, tended to spend less time on it than if they had carried out the task with no pause.

For tasks with one interruption, doctors tended to complete the task in about half the time they would have spent if they had not been interrupted.

The authors speculated that one reason for the quicker completion of a task that had been interrupted was that doctors decided to work more quickly to compensate for the time spent dealing with the .

However, in almost a fifth of cases (18.5%), doctors failed to return to the task they had been working on before being interrupted.

Interruptions happened most often during documentation (around 43%) and direct and indirect care (17% and 19% respectively). Doctors were least likely to be interrupted when taking part in professional communication (5%) or social activities (2%).

The authors conclude: "Our results support the hypothesis that the highly interruptive nature of busy clinical environments may have a negative effect on patient safety.

"Task shortening may occur because interrupted tasks are truncated to 'catch up' for lost time, which may have significant implications for patient safety."

Explore further: Study on health impact of wheat challenges Stone Age myths and costly diets– providing you go whole grain

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Now where was I again?

Dec 07, 2009

Although the actual interruption may only last a few moments, the study shows that we then lose more time when we try to find our place and resume the task that was interrupted.

What was I doing? Interruptions can change purchase decisions

Sep 15, 2008

You're on your computer, about to buy a vacation package when the phone rings. According to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, when you return to the computer after the interruption, you may have a completely differ ...

Recommended for you

AMA: Hospital staff should consider impact of CMS rule

59 minutes ago

(HealthDay)—Hospital medical staff members need to consider the impact of a final rule issued by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that revised the conditions of participation for hospitals ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.