Interruptions and multitasking in surgery

a multicentre observational study of the daily work patterns of doctors and nurses

Tommaso Bellandi*, Alessandro Cerri, Giulia Carreras, Scott Walter, Cipriana Mengozzi, Sara Albolino, Eleonora Mastrominico, Fernando Renzetti, Riccardo Tartaglia, Johanna Westbrook

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this study was to obtain baseline data on doctors’ and nurses’ work activities and rates of interruptions and multitasking to improve work organisation and processes. Data were collected in six surgical units with the WOMBAT (Work Observation Method by Activity Timing) tool. Results show that doctors and nurses received approximately 13 interruptions per hour, or one interruption every 4.5 min. Compared to doctors, nurses were more prone to interruptions in most activities, while doctors performed multitasking (33.47% of their time, 95% CI 31.84–35.17%) more than nurses (15.23%, 95% CI 14.24–16.25%). Overall, the time dedicated to patient care is relatively limited for both professions (37.21%, 95% CI 34.95–39.60% for doctors, 27.22%, 95% CI 25.18–29.60% for nurses) compared to the time spent for registration of data and professional communication, that accounts for two-thirds of doctors’ time and nearly half of nurses’ time. Further investigation is needed on strategies to manage job demands and professional communications. Practitioner Summary: This study offers further findings on the characteristics and frequency of multitasking and interruptions in surgery, with a comparison of how they affect doctors and nurses. Further investigation is needed to improve the management of job demands and communications according to the results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)40-47
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • doctors’ and nurses’ workload
  • multitasking and interruptions
  • safety in surgery
  • structured observations

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