Friday, July 7, 2017

Efficiency of Task Switching and Multi-tasking: Observations of Pediatric Resident Behaviors when Managing Interruptions to Daily Workflow

Jennifer DiRocco
University of Hawaii

Background:  Residents demonstrate a wide range of performance when required to manage interruptions in their workflow and prioritize patient care. Understanding these interruptions and the variables that correlate with one’s ability to multi-task or task switch would provide helpful knowledge for residents struggling with this skill set. 

Aims: (a) directly observe the characteristics of interruptions in pediatric residents’ daily workflow, (b) measure how efficiently these interruptions are managed, and (c) identify variables that may affect this individual ability.

Methods:  18 participating pediatric residents were surveyed on their usual sleep habits and self-reported wellness. They completed a VARK learning style inventory and a validated Multitasking Activity Tool (the MTAT).  Each resident was directly observed for 3-4 clinical work hours by one of three trained observers and completed post-observation surveys regarding preceding sleep and mental strain.

Results: Pediatric residents were interrupted an average of 5.7 times per hour.  The average interruption time was 1.6 minutes, with an additional average time of 1.84 minutes to resume a primary task. The primary task was not resumed after 11% (43/373) of interruptions.  When adjusted for intern status and sex, those with lower (more efficient) MTAT scores took less time to resume a primary task following an interruption (p=0.01). 

Conclusions:  Workflow interruptions are common in pediatrics; learning to mitigate and manage these interruptions through effective task-switching is critical. Having a natural ability to multitask (as measured by the MTAT) improved resumption time. There was no significant association found with sleep, wellness, learning style or mental strain.