Risk of Medical Errors by ED Doctors Linked to Interruptions
Why emergency physicians in academic teaching hospitals had twice as many interruptions is unclear. The authors speculated that some of them might be due to inquiries from students, or the higher overall acuity of illness necessitating discussions with multiple consultants.
Chisholm, however, noted that some reports suggest that when doctors are interrupted, they fail to return to the interrupted task one in five times. "There is evidence supporting the negative effect of interruptions on task performance and subject perception of stress," prompting providers to compensate with short cuts.
But aren't emergency room physicians of a personality type that thrives on fast-paced, ever-changing circumstances, capable of rapid "switchtasking?" Chisholm says that they are. But that doesn't get around the fact that "all the cognitive literature suggests that the human brain doesn't adapt well to interruptions. And at the baseline, it's something we should attempt to control better. It's not a matter of expressing frustration, or whining, it's that you're delivering care less effectively than you should. And it does end up contributing to the potential for medical error."
Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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