While performing new or ongoing clinical tasks that demand substantial amounts of providers’ attention, task switching may be disruptive and require reorientation of attention. When switching from one task to another, the cognitive readjustment between tasks, referred to as a “switch cost,” results in slower responses that are more error-prone (Monsell, 2003). It is more difficult and takes twice as long to be reoriented to (resume) more complex tasks compared to routine tasks (Czerwinski, Horvitz & Wilhite, 2004).
Task disruptions can have undesirable psychological effects (including more negative mood) and increase required cognitive effort (Zijlstra, et al., 1999). According to the “cognitive fatigue model,” cognitive disruptions increase cognitive demands and are an unexpected and uncontrollable source of mental stress, fatigue and information overload that can cause slips, memory lapses, and/or errors (Collins et al., 2006; Collins et al., 2007; Zheng et al., 2010). Additional effort is required to ignore distractions and remain attendant to the current task and goals (Cohen, 1978; Cohen, 1980). Task disruptions may be important contributors to medical adverse events (Page, 2004; Ely et al., 1995; Hicks et al., 2004; Pape et al., 2005; Potter et al., 2005; Santell et al., 2003; Desselle, 2005; Beso, Franklin & Barber, 2005; Stratton et al., 2004; Wakefield et al., 1998; Walters, 1992; Davis, 1990).