Doctors who are interrupted 'offer worse care to patients'
Doctors who are regularly interrupted by other staff could be offering poorer care to patients, researchers said.
They have less time overall to spend on their work and face being interrupted by colleagues 6.6 times an hour on average.
Being pulled in different directions means doctors fail to come back to almost one in five (19%) of their jobs while 11 per cent of all tasks are interrupted, 3.3 per cent of them more than once.
Doctors are forced to multitask for 13 per cent of the time and the average time spent on a job is 1.26 minutes, research found.
When doctors do go back to tasks following an interruption, they spend less time on them than if they had never been stopped.
And when colleagues stop doctors to ask a question, the doctor then completes the task in about half the time they would have spent otherwise.
Experts from the University of Sydney followed 40 doctors in the A&E department of a large hospital for the research.
They examined the group for 210 hours in total spread over 131 weekday sessions, recording 9,588 tasks.
Writing online in the journal Quality and Safety in Health Care, the experts said one reason tasks were completed quicker was because doctors wanted to make up for ''lost time'' spent on an interruption.
They suggested that when doctors are stopped ''they compensate by working faster and cutting corners.''
Previous research by the same team has shown that when hospital nurses are interrupted, the rate of medicine errors significantly increases.
''Thus, the uncontrolled and untrained use of interruptions in clinical practice is an expensive and dangerous strategy, and the need to develop clinical processes that minimise unnecessary interruption and multitasking is strong,'' they said.
In the latest study, doctors were most often disrupted when they were filling in documents (43 per cent) but also when they were offering direct care to patients (17 per cent) as well as indirect care (19 per cent).
The authors concluded: ''Our results support the hypothesis that the highly interruptive nature of busy clinical environments may have a negative effect on patient safety.
''Task shortening may occur because interrupted tasks are truncated to 'catch up' for lost time, which may have significant implications for patient safety.''
(C) The Telegraph Group London 2010