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BJA: British Journal of Anaesthesia
Year: 2010  |  Volume: 105  |  Issue: 6  |  Page No.: 767 - 771

Novel method of measuring the mental workload of anaesthetists during clinical practice

A. J Byrne, M Oliver, O Bodger, W. A Barnett, D Williams, H Jones and A. Murphy    

Abstract: Background

Cognitive overload has been recognized as a significant cause of error in industries such as aviation and measuring mental workload has become a key method of improving safety. The aim of this study was to pilot the use of a new method of measuring mental workload in the operating theatre using a previously published methodology.


The mental workload of the anaesthetists was assessed by measuring their response times to a wireless vibrotactile device and the NASA TLX subjective workload score during routine surgical procedures. Primary task workload was inferred from the phase of anaesthesia.


Significantly increased response time was associated with the induction phase of anaesthesia compared with maintenance/emergence, non-consultant grade, and during more complex cases. Increased response was also associated with self-reported mental load, physical load, and frustration. These findings are consistent with periods of increased mental workload and with the findings of other studies using similar techniques.


These findings confirm the importance of mental workload to the performance of anaesthetists and suggest that increased mental workload is likely to be a common problem in clinical practice. Although further studies are required, the method described may be useful for the measurement of the mental workload of anaesthetists.

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