The Medical Pause: Importance, Processes, and Training

Med Educ. 2021 Mar 26. doi: 10.1111/medu.14529. Online ahead of print.


Research has shown that taking "timeouts" in medical practice improves performance and patient safety. However, the benefits of taking timeouts, or pausing, is not sufficiently acknowledged in workplaces and training programs. To promote this acknowledgment, we suggest a systematic conceptualization of the medical pause, focusing on its importance, processes, and implementation in training programs. By employing insights from educational and cognitive psychology, we first identified pausing as an important skill to interrupt negative momentum and bolster learning. Subsequently, we categorized constituent cognitive processes for pausing skills into two phases: the decision-making phase (determining when and how to take pauses) and the executive phase (applying relaxation or reflection during pauses). We present a model that describes how relaxation and reflection during pauses can optimize cognitive load in performance. Several strategies to implement pause training in medical curricula are proposed: intertwining pause training with training of primary skills, providing second-order scaffolding through shared control, and employing auxiliary tools such as computer-based simulations with a pause function.

Keywords: Timeout; cognitive load; medical training; patient safety; skill development.