Thursday, May 27, 2010

Another Patient Safety Tip: Avoid Physician Interruptions

I recently shared a study that showed how nurses who were interrupted repeatedly during medication administration were far more likely to commit medication errors. Now comes another study published online by Quality and Safety in Healthcare that shows similar outcomes with physicians. Although this one has a slightly different twist. It seems that physicians who get frequently interrupted fall behind on their tight schedule and therefor cut corners to help make up for lost time. This behavior was shown to have put some patients at higher risk.

The study was conducted at the University of Sydney in Australia and covered 40 physicians at a 400 bed hospital. They found that physicians were interrupted an average of 6.6 times per hour. Once interrupted, physicians either completed tasks in a much shorter time frame than they should have or skipped completing the task completely. Tasks interrupted 3 times or more that had a predicted completion time of 23 minutes were finished in just over 6 minutes following interruptions. One method employed frequently by the physicians was multitasking.

The good news is that only about 11% of the physician's tasks were interrupted one or more times. But as the author notes, "interruptions add significantly to cognitive load, increase stress and anxiety, inhibit decision-making performance and increase task errors. Unlike the nurse study, this one did not look at the necessity of the interruptions. But it can be safely assumed that many of the interruptions can be avoided.

Let's leave our doctors, and nurses, alone when they are deeply involved in patient care.

More on this later.

Mark Brodeur

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