Tuesday, March 16, 2010

How do Distractions Impact Nurses?

Distractions and interruptions can be dangerous.

In a new article for Health Leaders Media, "Nurses Say Distractions Cut Bedside Time by 25 Percent," John Commins reports that hospital nurses spend 1/4 of their shift away from the patients' bedside to complete regulatory requirements, redundant paperwork, and other non-direct care, according to a recent online survey of more than 1,600 nurses.

In her INQRI study, "Examining the Impact of Nursing Structures and Processes on Medication Errors," Linda Flynn has also noted the incredible affect that distractions can have on nurses and on the patients in their care. During a hospital visit, she saw a nurse who was unable to find a quiet place to work simply sit in the middle of a chaotic unit hallway to reconcile medications. She further observed that the nurse was interrupted every 45 seconds for tasks that could have easily been done by others on staff or could have waited until she finished. Click here to view Dr. Flynn's study findings on YouTube.

Comment below to share your thoughts on the impact distractions can have on patient care.


  1. I had the opportunity to study the impact of working conditions on nurses with a fellow researcher. The study results suggested that nurses are indeed impacted when working conditions are not optimal. Nurses often will work-around the problems encountered to provide quality care to their patients, but in doing so, they risk causing harm to patients through nursing errors. This was an official study performed in conjunction with a state nursing association. In 2008, AHRQ published an online Handbook for Nurses that discussed the impact of distractions and interruptions in the work environment.

    More recently, "Switch: How to change things when change is hard" a new book written by Chris and Dan Heath, had a vignette on the impact of interruptions to nurses during medication dispensing.

    This true story discussed a hospital that required nurses to wear bright yellow vests when dispensing medications. Colleagues were instructed not to interrupt nurses when they were wearing these vests. The study reported significant error reduction in the units that participated in the study.

    Hawthorne effect? Maybe. But the idea is that there are too many interruptions in nurses' working environments. To read more about nursing working conditions visit http://www.myhealthtechblog.com/2010/02/switch-how-to-change.html

  2. Deborah, thank you for your comment and for sharing your site with us.