Interruptions in Workflow for RNs in a Level One Trauma Center

Publication Date



AMIA Annu Symp Proc. 2005; 2005: 86–90.


An understanding of interruptions in healthcare is important for the design, implementation, and evaluation of health information systems and for the management of clinical workflow and medical errors. The purpose of this study is to identify and classify the types of interruptions experienced by Emergency Department(ED) nurses working in a Level One Trauma Center. This was an observational field study of Registered Nurses (RNs) employed in a Level One Trauma Center using the shadowing method. Results of the study indicate that nurses were both recipients and initiators of interruptions. Telephones, pagers, and face-to-face conversations were the most common sources of interruptions. Unlike other industries, the healthcare community has not systematically studied interruptions in clinical settings to determine and weigh the necessity of the interruption against their sometimes negative results such as medical errors, decreased efficiency, and increased costs. Our study presented here is an initial step to understand the nature, causes, and effects of interruptions, thereby improving both the quality of healthcare and patient safety. We developed an ethnographic data collection technique and a data coding method for the capturing and analysis of interruptions. The interruption data we collected are systematic, comprehensive, and close to exhaustive. They confirmed the findings from earlier studies by other researchers that interruptions are frequent events in critical care and other healthcare settings. We are currently using these data to analyze the workflow dynamics of ED clinicians, to identify the bottlenecks of information flow, and to develop interventions to improve the efficiency of emergency care through the management of interruptions.


Nursing Staff, Hospital/organization and administration, Task Performance and Analysis, Trauma Centers/organizations and administration


PMCID: PMC1560877