A work observation study of nuclear medicine technologists: interruptions, resilience and implications for patient safety

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Abstract

Background

Errors by nuclear medicine technologists during the preparation of radiopharmaceuticals or at other times can cause patient harm and may reflect the impact of interruptions, busy work environments and deficient systems or processes. We aimed to: (a) characterise the rate and nature of interruptions technologists experience and (b) identify strategies that support safety.

Methods

We performed 100 hours of observation of 11 technologists at a major public hospital and measured the proportions of time spent in eight categories of work tasks, location of task, interruption rate and type and multitasking (tasks conducted in parallel). We catalogued specific safety-oriented strategies used by technologists.

Results

Technologists completed 5227 tasks and experienced 569 interruptions (mean, 4.5 times per hour; 95% CI 4.1 to 4.9). The highest interruption rate occurred when technologists were in transit between rooms (10.3 per hour (95% CI 8.3 to 12.5)). Interruptions during radiopharmaceutical preparation occurred a mean of 4.4 times per hour (95% CI 3.3 to 5.6). Most (n=426) tasks were interrupted once only and all tasks were resumed after interruption. Multitasking occurred 16.6% of the time. At least some interruptions were initiated by other technologists to convey important information and/or to render assistance. Technologists employed a variety of verbal and non-verbal strategies in all work areas (notably in the hot-lab) to minimise the impact of interruptions and optimise the safe conduct of procedures. Although most were due to individual choices, some strategies reflected overt or subliminal departmental policy.

Conclusions

Some interruptions appear beneficial. Technologists’ self-initiated strategies to support safe work practices appear to be an important element in supporting a resilient work environment in nuclear medicine.

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