Table of Contents Author Guidelines Submit a Manuscript
Journal of Healthcare Engineering
Volume 4, Issue 1, Pages 127-144
Research Article

The Effects of Interruptions on Oncologists' Patient Assessment and Medication Ordering Practices

Patricia L. Trbovich,1,2,3 Melissa C. Griffin,1 Rachel E. White,1 Venetia Bourrier,4 Dhali Dhaliwal,4 and Anthony C. Easty1,2

1HumanEra, Techna, University Health Network, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
2Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
3Health Policy, Management and Evaluation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
4Cancer Care Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Received 1 December 2011; Accepted 1 October 2012

Copyright © 2013 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Interruptions are causal factors in medication errors. Although researchers have assessed the nature and frequency of interruptions during medication administration, there has been little focus on understanding their effects during medication ordering. The goal of this research was to examine the nature, frequency, and impact of interruptions on oncologists' ordering practices. Direct observations were conducted at a Canadian cancer treatment facility to (1) document the nature, frequency, and timing of interruptions during medication ordering, and (2) quantify the use of coping mechanisms by oncologists. On average, oncologists were interrupted 17 % of their time, and were frequently interrupted during safety-critical stages of medication ordering. When confronted with interruptions, oncologists engaged/multitasked more often than resorting to deferring/blocking. While some interruptions are necessary forms of communication, efforts must be made to reduce unnecessary interruptions during safety-critical tasks, and to develop interventions that increase oncologists' resiliency to inevitable interruptions.