The effect of multitasking on worker performance

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Diwas KC, associate professor of information systems & operations management, completed an in-depth investigation of the impact of multitasking in a complex work environment by analyzing patient flow and clinical data of physicians in a large hospital ER. The study provides important findings for understanding multitasking and its “implications for a knowledge economy, where attention and focus are significant drivers of productivity and quality.” The research indicated that multitasking starts out as a positive influence on work, giving physicians the “ability to utilize idle time between tasks.” Additionally, lower levels of multitasking actually improved the quality of care, since “low levels of stress can aid cognitive function.” Once multitasking behavior became excessive, productivity declined dramatically due to a variety of factors, including work interruptions and coordination costs. A higher level of multitasking also led to a drop in detected diagnoses and an increased rate of revisits in a 24-hour period for patients initially treated in the emergency department. Physicians spent less time with patients and their overall focus suffered.