Table 2

Case studies of interruption handling strategies

Allowing1. Engaging: high priority secondary task
  • A patient's mother comes to the nursing station to ask her child's nurse for help moving her child to the bathroom. All medication work is suspended.

  • This would be described as ‘interrupting’ or ‘engaging’ by Liu or Grundgeiger.8 11

2. Multi-tasking: similar priority primary and secondary task
  • While drawing up cough syrup and ibuprofen, a colleague asks a nurse to check the arithmetic for weight dosing of a medication. While continuing to draw the liquid into oral syringes, the nurse discusses the calculations with the other nurse.

  • Described by Collins, Liu and Grundgeiger.8 11 25

3. Mediating: high priority task generated before suspension of primary task
  • A nurse collecting medications is asked by a colleague to witness the wasting of a narcotic drug. The nurse responds ‘one second’. The nurse suspends collection of medications and places them on a counter. She places an empty pill cup next to the other medications to remind her to collect pills. She crosses off the medications collected on her paper documentation before helping her colleague.

  • This would be described as ‘scheduled’ or ‘deferred’ by Biron and Liu.8 24

Blocking4. Blocking: high priority primary task
  • The ward clerk asks the nurse a question while the nurse is double-checking doses of chemotherapy. The nurse does not look at the ward clerk but holds up her hand to block the interruption. She continues checking the chemotherapy.

  • Described by Brixey and Liu.8 23