Interruptions cause emergency-department physicians to shorten the time they spend on clinical tasks and often cause them to not complete the task at all, according to a study by Australian researchers published in the journal Quality and Safety in Health Care.
Interruptions to doctors should be minimized: study
Researchers watched 40 doctors in the emergency department of a 400-bed teaching hospital over 210 weekday hours from July 2006 to January 2007, and they observed that physicians get interrupted while performing a task 6.6 times an hour. They found that 11% of all tasks are interrupted; 3.3% of tasks are interrupted more than once; interrupted tasks are completed in shorter times than uninterrupted tasks; and doctors failed to return and complete 18.5% of interrupted tasks.
They observed physicians performing 9,588 individual tasks and noted that the doctors multitasked 12.8% of the time. Documentation was the task most frequently interrupted, with discharge summary documentation tasks being interrupted 47% of the time. It was noted that doctors spent 5.7% of their time engaged in “social activities” and these were interrupted only 2% of the time.
“Clearly, interruptions and multitasking are unavoidable in busy clinical environments,” the researchers concluded, “and the need to minimize unnecessary interruption and multitasking is strong.”
In contrast, in a similar study published two years ago in The Medical Journal of Australia, the researchers found that “ward doctors” were interrupted 2.9 times an hour, though 26% of interrupted tasks were not completed during the observation period.
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