Background: During routine cases, anesthesia providers may divert their attention away from direct patient care to read clinical (e.g., medical records) and/or nonclinical materials. The authors sought to ascertain the incidence of intraoperative reading and measure its effects on clinicians' workload and vigilance.
Methods: In 172 selected general anesthetic cases in an academic medical center, a trained observer categorized the anesthesia provider's activities into 37 possible tasks. Vigilance was assessed by the response time to a randomly illuminated alarm light. Observer- and subject-reported workload were scored at random intervals. Data from Reading and Non-Reading Periods of the same cases were compared to each other and to matched cases that contained no observed reading. The cases were matched before data analysis on the basis of case complexity and anesthesia type.
Results: Reading was observed in 35% of cases. In these 60 cases, providers read during 25 +/- 3% of maintenance but not during induction or emergence. While Non-Reading Cases (n = 112) and Non-Reading Periods of Reading Cases did not differ in workload, vigilance, or task distribution, they both had significantly higher workload than Reading Periods. Vigilance was not different among the three groups. When reading, clinicians spent less time performing manual tasks, conversing with others, and recordkeeping.
Conclusions: Anesthesia providers, even when being observed, read during a significant percentage of the maintenance period in many cases. However, reading occurred when workload was low and did not appear to affect a measure of vigilance.