Physicans Workflow Interrupted Every 11 Minutes, According to Study

Could workflow interruptions be one more reason for physician frustration and burnout? They could if they’re being interrupted five times an hour.

That’s the conclusion reached by a group of researchers who studied physicians in Germany. In the study, called Hospital doctors’ workflow interruptions and activities: an observation study and published in BMJ Quality and Safety, lead author Matthias Weigl and others wanted to know what kind of interruptions occur and under which circumstances. The observations were conducted in a 300-bed municipal teaching public hospital.

The researchers defined interruptions as any intrusion that was an unplanned and unscheduled task, causing a discontinuation of tasks. They also defined an impediment as a particular kind of disruption that didn’t stop physicians from ongoing activity, but rather aggravated or delayed “current task performance.”

Overall, they found 1,480 observed workflow interruptions during 32 full work shifts. That means on average they observed 5.3 workflow interruptions per work hour, which also equates to disruptions every 11.25 minutes.

The results showed that most of the interruptions were caused by nurses (37.2%). Those were followed by telephone/beeper calls (21.9%), and then fellow doctors (17.4%). Other interruptions were attributed to patients, patients’ relatives and other persons.

The researchers also found that workflow interruptions due to telephone or bleeper calls occurred significantly more often when doctors were communicating with patients or were engaged in other activities.

Impediments also occurred more frequently during conversations with ward staff or others.

Conversely, telephone or bleeper interruptions and impediments were less probable when doctors were engaged in documentation activities.

Researchers concluded that the interruptions reflect a high requirement for communication within interdisciplinary environments. On the other hand, they suggested, the study reveals opportunities to reduce unnecessary interruptions and to reflect on staff’s adoption of “interruptive communication mechanisms.”