We present a unique data visualisation approach, called workflow time charts, to illustrate the sequential and multi-dimensional nature of work in emergency departments. Using 40 h of data from direct observations of emergency physicians, we applied the charts to visualise patient-stratified physicians’ work as a continuous temporal process, including distinguishing tasks of different types and representing external prompts (similar to interruptions) and multitasking performance. The charts showed frequent changes in the nature of observed activities, with interleaved multitasking a constant feature and external prompts often clustered in time. Evidence of seniority-related differences in work were apparent with consultants switching between more concurrent patients and receiving more frequent clinical prompts than junior physicians, illustrating their overseeing and advice-giving role. The ubiquity of interleaved multitasking suggests a need to focus on developing individual strategies to support frequent cognitive switching. Work that appears fragmented at physician level may form part of a flexible and robust system, rather than an error-prone set of isolated individual behaviours.
- Clinical work
- Emergency department