Primary care physicians (PCPs) report multitasking during workdays while processing electronic inbox messages, but scant systematic information exists on attention switching and its correlates in the health care setting. To describe PCPs’ frequency of attention switching associated with electronic inbox work, identify potentially modifiable factors associated with attention switching and inbox work duration, and compare the relative association of attention switching and other factors with inbox work duration. This cross-sectional study of the work of 1275 PCPs in an integrated group serving 4.5 million patients used electronic health record (EHR) access logs from March 1 to 31, 2018, to evaluate PCPs’ frequency of attention switching. Statistical analysis was performed from October 15, 2018, to August 28, 2020. Attention switching was defined as switching between the electronic inbox, other EHR work, and non-EHR periods. Inbox work duration included minutes spent on electronic inbox message views and related EHR tasks. Multivariable models controlled for the exposures. The 1275 PCPs studied (721 women [56.5%]; mean [SD] age, 45.9 [8.5] years) had a mean (SD) of 9.0 (7.6) years of experience with the medical group and received a mean (SD) of 332.6 (148.3) (interquartile range, 252-418) new inbox messages weekly. On workdays, PCPs made a mean (SD) of 79.4 (21.8) attention switches associated with inbox work and did a mean (SD) 64.2 (18.7) minutes of inbox work over the course of 24 hours on workdays. In the model for attention switching, each additional patient secure message beyond the reference value was associated with 0.289 (95% CI, 0.217-0.362) additional switches, each additional results message was associated with 0.203 (95% CI, 0.127-0.278) additional switches, each additional request message was associated with 0.190 (95% CI, 0.124-0.257) additional switches, and each additional administrative message was associated with 0.262 (95% CI, 0.166-0.358) additional switches. Having a panel (a list of patients assigned to a primary care team) with more elderly patients (0.144 switches per percentage increase [95% CI, 0.009-0.278]) and higher inbox work duration (0.468 switches per additional minute of inbox work [95% CI, 0.411-0.524]) were also associated with higher attention switching involving the inbox. In the model for inbox work duration, each additional patient secure message beyond the reference value was associated with 0.151 (95% CI, 0.085-0.217) additional minutes, each additional results message was associated with 0.338 (95% CI, 0.272-0.404) additional minutes, each additional request message was associated with 0.101 (95% CI, 0.041-0.161) additional minutes, and each additional administrative message was associated with 0.179 (95% CI, 0.093-0.265) additional minutes. A higher percentage of the panel’s patients initiating messages (0.386 minutes per percentage increase [95% CI, 0.026-0.745]) and attention switches (0.373 minutes per switch [95% CI, 0.328-0.419]) were also associated with higher inbox work duration. In addition, working at a medical center where all PCPs had high inbox work duration was independently associated with high or low inbox work duration. This study suggests that PCPs make frequent attention switches during workdays while processing electronic inbox messages. Message quantity was associated with both attention switching and inbox work duration. Physician and patient panel characteristics had less association with attention switching and inbox work duration. Assisting PCPs with message quantity might help modulate both attention switching and inbox work duration.
Evaluation of Attention Switching and Duration of Electronic Inbox Work Among Primary Care Physicians
Authors: Lieu, Tracy A; Warton, E Margaret; East, Jeffrey A; Moeller, Mark F; Prausnitz, Stephanie; Ballesca, Manuel; Mark, Gloria; Akbar, Fatema; Awsare, Sameer; Chen, Yi-Fen Irene; Reed, Mary E
JAMA Netw Open. 2021 01 04;4(1):e2031856. Epub 2021-01-04.