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Schneider, Anna; Wehler, Markus; Weigl, Matthias (2019): Provider interruptions and patient perceptions of care: an observational study in the emergency department. In: BMJ quality & safety, Vol. 28, No. 4: pp. 296-304
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BACKGROUND Interruptions are endemic in healthcare work environments. Yet, they can have positive effects in some instances and negative in others, with their net effect on quality of care still poorly understood. We aimed to distinguish beneficial and detrimental forms of interruptions of emergency department (ED) providers using patients' perceptions of ED care as a quality measure. METHODS An observational design was established. The study setting was an interdisciplinary ED of an academic tertiary referral hospital. Frequencies of interruption sources and contents were identified in systematic expert observations of ED physicians and nurses. Concurrently, patients rated overall quality of care, ED organisation, patient information and waiting times using a standardised survey. Associations were assessed with hierarchical linear models controlling for daily ED workload. Regression results were adjusted for multiple testing. Additionally, analyses were computed for ED physicians and nurses, separately. RESULTS On 40 days, 160 expert observation sessions were conducted. 1418 patients were surveyed. Frequent interruptions initiated by patients were associated with higher overall quality of care and ED organisation. Interruptions relating to coordination activities were associated with improved ratings of ED waiting times. However, interruptions containing information on previous cases were associated with inferior ratings of ED organisation. Specifically for nurses, overall interruptions were associated with superior patient reports of waiting time. CONCLUSIONS Provider interruptions were differentially associated with patient perceptions of care. Whereas coordination-related and patient-initiated interruptions were beneficial to patient-perceived efficiency of ED operations, interruptions due to case-irrelevant communication were related to inferior patient ratings of ED organisation. The design of resilient healthcare systems requires a thorough consideration of beneficial and harmful effects of interruptions on providers' workflows and patient safety.