Saturday, October 19, 2013

Multitasking in the Health Care Setting: How to protect yourself

Do you think you can multi task? Most women, and particularly mothers of young kids, think they can. When talking about the difference between men and women, it’s not uncommon for women to say “guys just don’t know how to multitask.” Guess what? Neither do women. The human brain is not wired for multitasking.

The mother, with the two year old tugging at their leg, while they are making dinner and talking on their cell phone, is not an uncommon image. Fact is, no one wins in this scenario. The two year old can’t get Mommy’s attention to use the potty and so wets their “big kid pants.” The meal is undercooked, “yuck” and no one eats much of it.  The person she’s on the phone with-say its work-makes a mistake because our multitasking Mom gave incorrect information. Basically, no one had their needs met, including “super Mom.”

As Dr John Medina, author of “Brain Rules,” describes it “The brain is a sequential processor and large fractions of a second are consumed every time the brain switches tasks.” It’s easy to see that a half second slower to put on the brakes causes an accident. A half second distraction from the child on Mom’s leg causes a misstep and fall, injuring Mom and child.

Multitasking can increase errors by 50%. According to the authors of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, multitasking is also associated with missing important cues and making it harder to retain information in working memory. These are very important functions for anyone working in healthcare. Being distracted by a text message has literally resulted in people getting the wrong medication and dying.

The new technologies are here to stay, so how do we adapt? How can we interact with our medical providers to keep them on task when there are so many distractions?

Consider the following:

• Use an advocate for medical appointments and have people stay with you in the hospital. Patients and providers alike agree that medical visits are better when an advocate is present. 

• Write down your concerns prior to your appointment and provide a copy to the provider at the start of the visit.

• Take notes. If the provider is interrupted by a phone call, text message etc., write down what you were discussing and refer back to it when the visit resumes. Keep in mind that the provider’s working memory may no longer hold information you’ve already provided. Suggest a recap and repeat information that you think is important.

• Just because the provider is distracted, don’t allow yourself to be. Stay focused on the visit. Refer to your list of concerns and make sure they are being addressed.

• It is appropriate to ask your provider not to take calls while you are meeting.

• Turn off your cell phone when you are meeting with your provider.

• Check your medical records to make sure the information they contain is correct and that important information is included.

• If you are going to have a medical procedure, and have special requirements-such as a pain protocol-ask to see it prior to having the procedure.

At the same time we’re trying to reign in our provider, we need to be looking at our own multitasking behavior, and do what we can to switch from multitasking to set shifting.  

Margaret Moore, co-author s of Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life,  writes I don't know anyone whose mind isn't frenzied, distracted or divided by multitasking a good deal of the time.... Whether or not you have an organized mind depends upon your ability to "drive" your attention and keep it focused when you're under pressure or faced with challenging conditions. Just like driving a racecar, a lot of skills are required. Fortunately, these skills are built into the brain's normal wiring. So how do you start to tap into your innate ability to be organized?

Moore identifies six rules to help in shifting from one thing to the next and avoiding the pitfalls of multitasking. These rules are as follows:

Tame your Frenzy: Sleep well, exercise, practice mindfulness and reduce the negative emotional frenzy of worry, anger, irritation, sadness etc. I’ve recently read some interesting observations about  knitting as therapy and how it helps to slow things down similar to mindfulness training. No worries if you aren’t a knitter, having a craft or something of that sort that absorbs you is very healthful.

Sustain Your Focus: Focus on one thing. Shut the door, turn off your phone, set a timer, turn off the phone.

Apply the Brakes: No matter how focused you are, distractions happen, since our brain is wired to constantly be on the look out for things that could harm us. When distracted, practice STOP (stop, take a breath, observe, proceed). Is there something you need to take note of and move to a new task? For example, hunger pains remind you that you haven’t eaten for the last six hours because you’ve been so absorbed in a project. However, if it’s just the wind ruffling your papers, go back to your original task.

Access your Working Memory (short-term memory): The same activities that help to quiet the mind (listed in #1) increases your ability to tap into your short-term memory. This helps with problem solving, creativity etc.

Shift sets: This brain skill, called "set-shifting," allows you to leave behind one task and leap to a new one with a fresh and productive focus. A fit and flexible mind and body are equally important.

Connect the Dots: Put the rules above into play to increase productivity and reduce frustration. 

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