Going blank: factors contributing to interruptions to nurses’ work and related outcomes


Linda McGillis Hall
Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing
University of Toronto
155 College Street, Suite 130
ON M5T 1P8


hall l.m., ferguson-paré m., peter e., white d., besner j., chisholm a., ferris e., fryers m., macleod m., mildon b., pedersen c. & hemingway a. (2010) Journal of Nursing Management18, 1040–1047
Going blank: factors contributing to interruptions to nurses’ work and related outcomes

Aim  To examine interruptions to nurses’ work, the systems issues related to these and the associated outcomes.

Background  While some research has described the role interruptions play in medication errors, work is needed to examine specific factors in the nursing work environment that cause interruptions and to assess the impact of these on nurses’ work and patient outcomes.

Methods  The present study utilized a mixed method design that involved work observation to detect nursing interruptions in the workplace followed by focus groups with a subsample of nurses.

Results  A total of 13 025 interruptions were observed. Equal numbers of these took place on medical and surgical units. The predominant source of interruptions was members of the health team, who interrupted more frequently on medical units.

Conclusions  Differences in the type of patient and the care needs between medical and surgical units may be a contributing factor to these findings. As members of the health team were among the leading source of interruptions, an interdisciplinary team-based approach to changing the organization and design of work should be explored.

Implications for nursing management  Nurse leaders should examine ways in which nurses’ work can benefit from system improvements to reduce interruptions that lead to patient safety issues such as treatment delays and loss of concentration.