What is the cost of interrupting a radiologist?

March 19, 2018, University of Utah

A first of its kind study shows typical interruptions experienced by on-call radiologists do not reduce diagnostic accuracy but do change what they look at and increase the amount of time spent on a case.

The implication of the finding is that as radiologists contend with an increasing number of workplace interruptions, they must either process fewer cases or work longer hours - both of which have adverse effects in terms of patient outcomes, said Trafton Drew, the study's lead author. They also may spend more time looking at dictation screens than reviewing .

"In radiology, there is a growing recognition that interruptions are bad and the number of interruptions faced by radiologists is increasing," said Drew, an assistant professor of cognitive and neural science in the University of Utah's Department of Psychology. "But there isn't much research at all on the consequences of this situation."

The Journal of Medical Imaging published the study online; it will appear in its July-September issue. Co-authors are: Lauren Williams, Department of Psychology, University of Utah; Booth Aldred, Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, University of Utah/Austin Radiological Association, Austin, Texas; Marta Heilbrun, Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, University of Utah/Emory University Hospital; and Satoshi Minoshima, Department of Radiology and Imaging Sciences, University of Utah.

Other research has shown that an on-call typically receives an average of 72 phone calls during a typical 12-hour overnight shift. An , for example, might involve conferring with an emergency department physician about a new patient.

In the study, experienced radiologists were given a list of pre-selected, complex cases to read and were then interrupted by a telephone call that played a pre-recorded message from another physician that asked them to evaluate a different patient's case. The study is the first to experimentally manipulate whether specific cases were or were not interrupted.

This video shows the use of mobile eye-tracking glasses during a study on the costs of interruption during diagnostic radiology interpretation. Credit: Trafton Drew, University of Utah

"This let us look at the effect of the interruption without worrying about whether a particular case might have been more difficult than others," Drew said.

The researchers used eye-tracking software to determine what radiologists were looking at before, during and after being interrupted. Drew and his team anticipated that an interruption would lead to errors in interpreting images, but "it didn't change the error rate at all."

However, radiologists spent several additional minutes overall on the case they were reviewing the first time they were interrupted. They also spent more time looking at a dictation screen, suggesting the screen serves as an external memory aid, and less time viewing medical images after the distraction.

"That suggests they had to recollect what they looked at and the dictation screen helped them do that," Drew said. "Given that radiologists spend about 10 minutes on a complex case, we think this could be a big problem in the aggregate. They can go back to what they were doing but there is a significant cost there in terms of time. If we could do something to reduce the interruptions it could really help radiologists out."

Some radiologists who participated in the study noted that the interruptions used by researchers were benign compared to the disruptions they often experienced in the workplace. Drew and his colleagues hope to follow up on this concern in future research.

"If radiologists truly spend less time on medical images and more time on dictation after being interrupted, it may explain why prior research has found that shifts with more interruptions tend to have more uncertainty about patient diagnosis," Drew said. "If it takes some period of time for the radiologist to reconstruct what he or she saw prior to the interruption, it might actually be good practice to take a little longer on cases when they are interrupted. Ultimately, this means that interruptions will either lead to more potential for error or fewer cases being seen by the radiologists."

Explore further: Patients at risk from 'nested interruptions' in nursing tasks, human factors paper reports

More information: Trafton Drew et al, Quantifying the costs of interruption during diagnostic radiology interpretation using mobile eye-tracking glasses, Journal of Medical Imaging (2018). DOI: 10.1117/1.JMI.5.3.031406

Related Stories

Patients at risk from 'nested interruptions' in nursing tasks, human factors paper reports

March 1, 2017
Intensive care units (ICUs) are one of the most challenging and complex environments in today's health-care system. ICU nurses, who perform various tasks critical to ensuring the safety of patients under their care, are frequently ...

Interactive virtual reality enhances physicians' treatment planning of complex conditions

March 18, 2018
Interactive virtual reality (VR) brings medical images to life on screen, showing interventional radiologists a patient's unique internal anatomy to help physicians effectively prepare and tailor their approach to complex ...

Radiologists seek greater involvement in patient care

June 20, 2017
Despite constraints of time and workload, radiologists are looking for ways to become more directly involved in the care of their patients, according to the findings of a recent survey of radiologists, published online in ...

Substantial variability among clinicians in imaging recs

September 17, 2015
(HealthDay)—There is substantial variability between radiologists and technologists in recommendation rates for additional imaging (RAI) during ultrasound interpretation, according to a study published in the October issue ...

Recommended for you

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Can sleeping too much lead to an early death?

August 15, 2018
A recent study in the Journal of the American Heart Association has led to headlines that will make you rethink your Saturday morning sleep in.

Diets high in vegetables and fish may lower risk of multiple sclerosis

August 15, 2018
People who consume a diet high in vegetables and fish may have a reduced risk of multiple sclerosis, new research led by Curtin University has found.

Eating breakfast burns more carbs during exercise and accelerates metabolism for next meal

August 15, 2018
Eating breakfast before exercise may "prime" the body to burn carbohydrates during exercise and more rapidly digest food after working out, University of Bath researchers have found.

Mixing energy drinks with alcohol could enhance the negative effects of binge drinking

August 14, 2018
A key ingredient of energy drinks could be exacerbating some of the negative effects of binge drinking according to a new study.

New study finds fake, low-quality medicines prevalent in the developing world

August 10, 2018
A new study from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that substandard and falsified medicines, including medicines to treat malaria, are a serious problem in much of the world. In low- and middle-income ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.