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Our Job IS Interruptions – How to Manage Them

July 12, 2017

I hope you get to finish reading this.
This was an observational time and motion study of 18 attending emergency physicians.  Interruptions occurred 12.5 times per hour. Each lasted about 30 seconds, and computer work was the task most often interrupted. Most interruptions were in person by staff. Most physicians immediately engaged the interruption, discontinuing the primary task (75%); this was followed by multitasking (22%).  Surprisingly, physicians either momentarily delayed or rejected the interruption only 2% of the time.

The authors gave some pearls on multitasking.  First, create environmental cues, such as leaving the mouse cursor to remind you of your next move. Also before task switching, prepare to resume by telling yourself the patient name and next step to help you have faster recall when switching back.

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Managing interruptions by delaying or rejecting the interruption may improve safety when they occur during critical tasks.  emDOCs has an outstanding article on managing cognitive load in the ED – worth your time to read.

Emergency Physician Use of Cognitive Strategies to Manage Interruptions.  Ann Emerg Med. 2017 Jun 7. pii: S0196-0644(17)30512-7. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2017.04.036. [Epub ahead of print]

Peer reviewed by Thomas Davis