Doctors more likely to 'cut corners' when interrupted, impacting patient safety

Physicians are more likely to cut corners to "catch up for lost time" when they're frequently interrupted, putting patient safety at risk, according to a study published online today by Quality and Safety in Healthcare. The study comes on the heels of similar research showing that medication errors increase as nurses experience more interruptions. 

Researchers from the University of Sydney in Australia led by Johanna Westbrook, PhD, studied 40 doctors at a 400-bed teaching hospital during weekdays and found that the physicians were interrupted 6.6 times per hour. In all, 11 percent of tasks conducted by physicians were interrupted at least once (with 3.3 percent of tasks interrupted more than once), leading to tasks either being completed in a shorter time period, or sometimes not at all. 

More specifically, tasks interrupted once were predicted to have a completion time of close to six minutes, but instead were finished in slightly more than three minutes. Tasks interrupted three times or more had a predicted completion time of 23 minutes, but instead had an observed time of just over six minutes. Doctors were found to have multitasked 12.8 percent of the time. 

"[I]nterruptions add significantly to cognitive load, increase stress and anxiety, inhibit decision-making performance and increase task errors," the study's authors wrote. Hospital personnel should be taught the appropriate manner in which to interrupt a physician and how to determine if an interruption can be bypassed altogether, Westbrook said, according to CNN.

"We really have to look at ways to try and reduce unnecessary interruptions," Westbrook told CNN

For more information:
- read this MedPage Today piece
- check out this CNN article
- here's the study's abstract