Prevalence of Potentially Distracting Noncare Activities and Their Effects on Vigilance, Workload, and Nonroutine Events during Anesthesia Care

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Abstract

Background:

When workload is low, anesthesia providers may perform non–patient care activities of a clinical, educational, or personal nature. Data are limited on the incidence or impact of distractions on actual care. We examined the prevalence of self-initiated nonclinical distractions and their effects on anesthesia workload, vigilance, and the occurrence of nonroutine events.

Methods:

In 319 qualifying cases in an academic medical center using a Web-based electronic medical chart, a trained observer recorded video and performed behavioral task analysis. Participant workload and response to a vigilance (alarm) light were randomly measured. Postoperatively, participants were interviewed to elicit possible nonroutine events. Two anesthesiologists reviewed each event to evaluate their association with distractions.

Results:

At least one self-initiated distraction was observed in 171 cases (54%), largely during maintenance. Distractions accounted for 2% of case time and lasted 2.3 s (median). The most common distraction was personal internet use. Distractions were more common in longer cases but were not affected by case type or American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status. Workload ratings were significantly lower during distraction-containing case periods and vigilance latencies were significantly longer in cases without any distractions. Three distractions were temporally associated with, but did not cause, events.

Conclusions:

Both nurse anesthetists and residents performed potentially distracting tasks of a personal and/or educational nature in a majority of cases. Self-initiated distractions were rarely associated with events. This study suggests that anesthesia professionals using sound judgment can self-manage nonclinical activities. Future efforts should focus on eliminating more cognitively absorbing and less escapable distractions, as well as training in distraction management.

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