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Measuring the relationship between interruptions, multitasking and prescribing errors in an emergency department: a study protocol


Introduction Interruptions and multitasking are frequent in clinical settings, and have been shown in the cognitive psychology literature to affect performance, increasing the risk of error. However, comparatively less is known about their impact on errors in clinical work. This study will assess the relationship between prescribing errors, interruptions and multitasking in an emergency department (ED) using direct observations and chart review.

Methods and analysis The study will be conducted in an ED of a 440-bed teaching hospital in Sydney, Australia. Doctors will be shadowed at proximity by observers for 2 h time intervals while they are working on day shift (between 0800 and 1800). Time stamped data on tasks, interruptions and multitasking will be recorded on a handheld computer using the validated Work Observation Method by Activity Timing (WOMBAT) tool. The prompts leading to interruptions and multitasking will also be recorded. When doctors prescribe medication, type of chart and chart sections written on, along with the patient's medical record number (MRN) will be recorded. A clinical pharmacist will access patient records and assess the medication orders for prescribing errors. The prescribing error rate will be calculated per prescribing task and is defined as the number of errors divided by the number of medication orders written during the prescribing task. The association between prescribing error rates, and rates of prompts, interruptions and multitasking will be assessed using statistical modelling.

Ethics and dissemination Ethics approval has been obtained from the hospital research ethics committee. Eligible doctors will be provided with written information sheets and written consent will be obtained if they agree to participate. Doctor details and MRNs will be kept separate from the data on prescribing errors, and will not appear in the final data set for analysis. Study results will be disseminated in publications and feedback to the ED.

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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