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Interrupted Doctors Spend Less Time on Clinical Tasks

Last Updated: May 14, 2010.

Emergency department doctors who are interrupted may decrease the time they spend on clinical tasks and even delay or fail to return to some tasks, which could have a negative impact on patient safety, according to a study published online May 12 in Quality and Safety in Health Care.

FRIDAY, May 14 (HealthDay News) -- Emergency department doctors who are interrupted may decrease the time they spend on clinical tasks and even delay or fail to return to some tasks, which could have a negative impact on patient safety, according to a study published online May 12 in Quality and Safety in Health Care.

In a prospective observational time and motion study in the emergency department of a 400-bed teaching hospital, Johanna I. Westbrook, Ph.D., of the University of Sydney in Australia, and colleagues observed 40 doctors for 210.45 hours to measure the association between rates of interruption and times and rates of task completion.

The researchers found that doctors were interrupted 6.6 times per hour, with 11 percent of tasks interrupted and 3.3 percent interrupted more than once. In addition, doctors multitasked 12.8 percent of the time. Interruptions were linked to a significant increase in time on task, however, doctors finished interrupted tasks in a shorter time than uninterrupted tasks when the researchers accounted for length-biased sampling. In addition, doctors did not return to 18.5 percent of interrupted tasks.

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

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