Medical surgical nursing; interruption; medication error; patient safety; human factors


Problem: Interruption during medication administration is a significant patient safety concern within health care, especially during the administration of high risk medications in nursing. Patient-controlled analgesia (PCA) devices are frequently associated with adverse events and have a four-fold increased risk of patient injury compared to non-PCA related adverse events. While the nature and frequency of interruptions have been established for nurses* medication processes, the impact of interruption frequency on nurses* PCA interaction has not been fully measured or described. Purpose: The purposes of this study were to quantify the impact of interruption frequency on registered nurses* (RN) performance, satisfaction, and cognitive workload during PCA interaction, and to determine nurses* perceptions of the impact of interruption frequency. Methods: This study employed a mixed-method design. First, an experimental repeated measures design was used to quantify the impact of interruption frequency on a purposive sample of nine medical-surgical RNs. The RNs completed PCA programming tasks in a simulated laboratory nursing environment for each of four conditions where interruption frequency was pre-determined. Four established human factors usability measures were completed for each of the four test conditions. The research questions were answered using repeated measures analysis of variance with (RM-ANOVA), McNamar*s test, and Friedman*s test. After each experiment, semi-structured interviews were used to collect data that were analyzed using inductive qualitative content analysis to determine RNs* perceptions of the impact of interruption frequency. Results: Results of the RM-ANOVA were significant for the main effect of interruption frequency on efficiency F(3,24)=9.592, p = .000. McNemar*s test did not show significance for the impact of interruption frequency on effectiveness (accuracy). Friedman test showed participant satisfaction was significantly impacted by interruption frequency (x2=9.47, df=3, p=0.024). Friedman test showed no significance for the main effect of interruption frequency on cognitive workload scores by condition type (x2=1.88, df=3, p=0.599). Results of the qualitative content analysis revealed two main categories to describe nurses* perception of interruption frequency: the nature of interruptions and nurses* reaction to the interrupted work environment. Discussion/Implications: The results suggested that interruption frequency significantly affected task completion time and satisfaction for participants but not participant accuracy or cognitive workload. A high error rate during PCA programming tasks indicated the need to evaluate the conditions in which RNs complete PCA programming as each error presents potential risk of patient harm. RNs* described the impact of interruption frequency as having a negative impact on the work environment and subsequently implement compensating strategies to counterbalance interruptions. RNs* perceived that patient safety was negatively impacted by frequent interruption. RNs experienced negative intrapersonal consequences as a results of frequent interruption. Additional study is needed to better understand the impact of interruption frequency on RNs* performance accuracy and cognitive workload.


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Graduation Date





Talbert, Steven


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Nursing



Degree Program









Release Date

August 2016

Length of Campus-only Access

1 year

Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Nursing; Nursing -- Dissertations, Academic

Included in

Nursing Commons