Departmental workload and physician errors in radiation oncology

Muhammad B. Tariq, Tim Meier, John H. Suh, Chandana A. Reddy, Andrew Godley, Jeff Kittel, Brian Hugebeck, Matt Kolar, Patty Barrett, Samuel T. Chao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose The purpose of this work was to evaluate measures of increased departmental workload in relation to the occurrence of physician-related errors and incidents reaching the patient in radiation oncology. Materials and Methods All data were collected for the year 2013. Errors were defined as forms received by our departmental process improvement team; of these forms, only those relating to physicians were included in the study. Incidents were defined as serious errors reaching the patient requiring appropriate action; these were reported through a separate system. Workload measures included patient volumes and physician schedules and were obtained through departmental records for daily and monthly data. Errors and incidents were analyzed for relation with measures of workload using logistic regression modeling. Results Ten incidents occurred in the year. The number of patients treated per day was a significant factor relating to incidents (P < 0.003). However, the fraction of department physicians off-duty and the ratio of patients to physicians were not found to be significant factors relating to incidents. Ninety-one physician-related errors were identified, and the ratio of patients to physicians (rolling average) was a significant factor relating to errors (P < 0.03). The number of patients and the fraction of physicians off-duty were not significant factors relating to errors. A rapid increase in patient treatment visits may be another factor leading to errors and incidents. All incidents and 58% of errors occurred in months where there was an increase in the average number of fields treated per day from the previous month; 6 of the 10 incidents occurred in August, which had the highest average increase at 26%. Conclusions Increases in departmental workload, especially rapid changes, may lead to higher occurrence of errors and incidents in radiation oncology. When the department is busy, physician errors may be perpetuated owing to an overwhelmed departmental checks system, leading to incidents reaching the patient. Insights into workload and workflow will allow for the development of targeted approaches to preventing errors and incidents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)E131-E135
JournalJournal of Patient Safety
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • departmental workload
  • patient safety
  • process improvement
  • quality
  • radiation oncology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Leadership and Management
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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