Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Staff interruptions hamper doctors' work


Regular interruptions to the working days of doctors can mean they give less attention to their many tasks, causing them to do a poorer job, researchers have concluded.

This can include offering poorer patient care and cutting corners on what could be important jobs.

Researchers from the University of Sydney followed 40 doctors in the A&E department of a large hospital and found that minor interruptions could be a real problem.

On average, doctors were interrupted 6.6 times an hour by other colleagues, and spent 13% of their time multi-tasking.

The effect was that they failed to come back to 19% of the jobs they were stopped from doing, and spent less time on jobs - an average of 1.26 minutes less.

And when they did go back to jobs after being stopped, they spent half the time they would have if they had not been interrupted by a colleague with a question.

The experts concluded that the reason for speeding up on tasks could be that doctors felt the need to make up for “lost time” and aimed to”compensate by working faster and cutting corners”.

The results were published in the journal Quality and Safety in Healthcare.


Readers' comments (8)

  • So what about the Nurse and Consultant PA's? They are also being interrupted and constantly have to multi task!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Cheeky sods!

    What about Nurses constantly being interupted by Doctors? Can you do this? Where is that? How do you do this? What is wrong with these patients?

    They wouldn't have a clue if it wasn't for us!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • ..and vice versa. Often it's because some doctors don't fully complete their tasks that we need to ask them questions about - for example writing that a medication has been stopped in the notes only for it not to be scribed out and signed on the chart, not writing enough fluids to take us over the night having us ring them to write up more, interupting US at handover so they can do a mini ward round or blood test when they have had a decent break from patient contact to have requested this earlier. Also patients may ask to see doctors and being in the 'middle' we get 'shot at' from both sides.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • How many times do Nurses get interrupted by Drs whilst doing drug rounds? How many times do Nurses get interrupted by Drs looking for something or wanting to know how to prescribe something? In fact, how many times are Nurses interrupted by everybody whilst going about their duty in one shift? The answer is,.... an incredible amount of times, far more than our poor Drs have to put up with. I apologise for any lack of compassion for their plight, but we are all in the same boat, working towards creating an efficient NHS with very little means!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Agree, agree, agree. I'm sure they do get interupted an inordinate amount of times and this does impact on patient care. However, no way do the doctors in my department get interupted anywhere near as often as I do (mostly by doctors). This includes being called away whilst I'm right in the middle of seeing a patient (or already doing 2 or 3 things at once) on a minor matter - which I would never do to a doctor! I hope this research isn't leading up to finding more roles that nurses and midwives can take over from doctors....

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Couldn't agree more. It's not just the fact you are interrupted by Doctors - it's the way it's done. I've lost count of the number of times doctors have butted straight into a conversation I'm having with a patient or colleague. I've even had doctors tug on my sleeve and attempt to speak to me whilst on the phone. Half of them would beat the average toddler in the egocentricity stakes. Perhaps social skills training needs to be put on the curriculum at medical school!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I am a nurse involved in releasing time to care. I was followed by my manager for a 12 hour period while I was in charge/coordinating and had a caseload of patients. Every minute of my time documented.
    Every hour I was inturrupted 24 times on average, with a total of approx 300 in the whole shift. Direct patient care was only 25% of the whole 12 hours.


    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • They have ashorter working week then us, better working conditions and usually a nicer facilities. they have secretarial help, time off for meetings, and a host of people at their command, perhaps if there was more shop floor work there would be less need for interruptions, and perhaps 24 hour shifts in place of on call arrangements

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.