The Impact of Interruptions on Chest Radiograph Interpretation: Effects on Reading Time and Accuracy

Acad Radiol. 2018 Dec;25(12):1515-1520. doi: 10.1016/j.acra.2018.03.016. Epub 2018 Mar 28.


Rationale and objectives: The objective of this study was to experimentally test the effect of interruptions on image interpretation by comparing reading time and response accuracy of interrupted case reads to uninterrupted case reads in resident and attending radiologists.

Materials and methods: Institutional review board approval was obtained before participant recruitment from an urban academic health-care system during January 2016-March 2016. Eleven resident and 12 attending radiologists examined 30 chest radiographs, rating their confidence regarding the presence or the absence of a pneumothorax. Ten cases were normal (ie, no pneumothorax present), 10 cases had an unsubtle pneumothorax (ie, readily perceivable by a nonexpert), and 10 cases had a subtle pneumothorax. During three reads of each case type, the participants were interrupted with 30 seconds of a secondary task. The total reading time and the accuracy of interrupted and uninterrupted cases were compared. A mixed-factors analysis of variance was run on reading time and accuracy with experience (resident vs attending) as a between-subjects factor and case type (normal, unsubtle, or subtle) and interruption (interruption vs no interruption) as within-subjects factors.

Results: Interrupted tasks had significantly longer reading times than uninterrupted cases (P = .032). During subtle cases, interruptions reduced accuracy (P = .034), but during normal cases, interruptions increased accuracy (P = .038).

Conclusions: Interruptions increased reading times and increased the tendency for a radiologist to conclude that a case is normal for both resident and attending radiologists, demonstrating that interruptions reduce efficiency and introduce patient safety concerns during reads of abnormal cases.

Keywords: Interruptions; chest radiograph interpretation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attention*
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Safety
  • Pneumothorax / diagnostic imaging*
  • Radiography
  • Radiologists*
  • Task Performance and Analysis*
  • Time Factors