Although they can raise the risk of medical errors, interruptions can also benefit technologists who work with radiopharmaceuticals.
What happens when nuclear medicine technologists get interrupted while working with dangerous, expensive radiopharmaceuticals?
Sometimes, these interruptions lead to better patient care. In fact, attempts to control interruptions might be counterproductive, according to a BMJ Quality & Safety Journal study published online.
Nuclear imaging technologists work in busy environments with a range of tasks and interruptions that could increase the risk of medical errors. Previous research had suggested that technologists are involved in about 70% of incorrect administrations of nuclear medicine.
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However, the study authors found these technicians have effective systems in place to deal with constant interruptions.
They observed the staff of a nuclear medicine department at 975-bed teaching hospital in Sydney, Australia, which performs routine general nuclear medicine and positron emission tomography studies.
The department included six full-time and five part-time technologists with between one and 23 years of experience each.
During the study period, the technologists completed 5,227 tasks and experienced 569 interruptions. The interruptions during radiopharmaceutical preparation occurred an average of 4.4 times per hour. Most tasks were interrupted once only and all tasks were resumed after interruption.
Technologists used a variety of verbal and non-verbal strategies in all work areas to minimize the impact of interruptions and optimize the safe conduct of procedures, according to the study. Some of these strategies were formal departmental policy; others were individual choices.
Safety strategies linked to decisions made by individual technologists included not interrupting a colleague or deferring taking a break. Departmental strategies included using barcoding for syringes and use of whiteboards "to uphold safe work practices," the authors stated.
"Some interruptions were initiated by other technologists to convey important information [about patients or procedures] and/or to render assistance," the authors stated. "Some interruptions were beneficial."