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Describing interruptions, multi-tasking and task-switching in the community pharmacy: A qualitative study in England

Lea, V.M., Corlett, S.A., Rodgers, Ruth (2015) Describing interruptions, multi-tasking and task-switching in the community pharmacy: A qualitative study in England. International journal of clinical pharmacy, 37 (6). pp. 1086-1094. ISSN 2210-7703. E-ISSN 2210-7711. (doi:10.1007/s11096-015-0155-7) (KAR id:52700)


Background: There is growing evidence base around interruptions and distractions in the community pharmacy setting. There is also evidence to suggest these practices may be associated with dispensing errors. Up to date, qualitative research on this subject is limited.

Objective: To explore interruptions and distractions in the community setting; utilising an ethnographic approach to be able to provide a detailed description of the circumstances surrounding such practices.

Setting: Community pharmacies in England, July to October 2011.

Method: An ethnographic approach was taken. Non participant, unstructured observations were utilised to make records of pharmacists’ every activities. Case studies were formed by combining field notes with detailed information on pharmacists and their respective pharmacy businesses. Content analysis was undertaken both manually and electronically, utilising NVivo 10.

Results: Response rate was 12% (n=11). Over fifteen days, a total of 123 hours and 58 minutes of observations were recorded in 11 separate pharmacies of 11 individual pharmacists. The sample was evenly split by gender (female n=6; male n=5) and pharmacy ownership (independent n=5; multiple n=6). Employment statuses included employee pharmacists (n=6), owners (n=4) and a locum (n=1). Average period of registration as a pharmacist was 19 years (range 5-39 years). Average prescriptions busyness of pharmacies ranged from 2,600 – 24,000 items dispensed per month. Two key themes were: “Interruptions and task-switching” and “distractions and multi-tasking.” All observed pharmacists’ work was dominated by interruptions, task-switches, distractions and multi-tasking, often to manage a barrage of conflicting demands. These practices were observed to be part of a deep-rooted culture in the community setting. Directional work maps illustrated the extent and direction of task switching employed by pharmacists.

Conclusions: In this study pharmacists’ working practices were permeated by interruptions and multi-tasking. These practices are inefficient and potentially reduce patient safety in terms of dispensing accuracy.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1007/s11096-015-0155-7
Uncontrolled keywords: Community pharmacy England, Medway School of Pharmacy, Interruptions, Multi-tasking, Task-switching, Observations, Medway School of Pharmacy
Subjects: R Medicine > RS Pharmacy and materia medica
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Natural Sciences > Medway School of Pharmacy
Depositing User: Sarah Corlett
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2015 21:08 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Feb 2021 13:31 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Lea, V.M..

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Corlett, S.A..

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Rodgers, Ruth.

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