Physicians may be able to complete simple tasks concurrently while diagnosing a patient without affecting the accuracy or speed of diagnoses, human factors researchers have suggested, based on the findings of a recent laboratory experiment. Complex tasks, however, that require tapping into memory appear to slow the decision-making process, resulting in measurable delays in completing the diagnoses. Accuracy of the diagnoses did not differ significantly between the simple and complex multitasking conditions.
The authors of this research, Shi Cao and Yili Liu (Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor) will present their results at the upcoming HFES 2013 Annual Meeting in San Diego.
To help fill the gap in research that examines the effect of concurrent tasks on decision making, particularly in the health care arena, the researchers asked 30 participants to diagnose a medical condition in a simulated diagnostic decision-making experiment under three concurrent task conditions -- simple, complex, or no concurrent task. The simple task was to acknowledge when an audio warning sounded from a vital signs monitor. The complex task required remembering changing emergency levels (low, medium, high) of three other patients.
Although the accuracy of participants' diagnoses did not differ significantly, it took the participants significantly more time to arrive at their decisions when they were required to complete a complex concurrent task compared with a simple task or no concurrent task. This finding may provide some guidance for the design of multitasking and interruption policies in the medical care work environment.
"When a physician is actively focusing on a time-critical diagnostic decision, other necessary information -- such as warnings, reminders, or situation updates -- should be delivered through simple or intuitive channels as much as possible to minimize potential interference," says Cao.
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