Time out: The importance of taking a pause at work

June 8, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

Every day, there are hundreds of examples when you take a quick pause to make sure you’re doing the right thing. Whether it’s confirming someone’s email address before you hit send, checking the name at the top of a text message, looking at a map before you start driving and more, you’re taking a “time out” to make sure you’re doing what you mean to be doing.

In health care, time outs are even more important.

“Taking a pause helps you ensure you do the right thing for the right patient at the right time,” said Sreelatha Ponnaluri-Wears, project manager in the Michigan Medicine Quality Department and lead of the Periprocedural Safety and Quality Improvement Program, or PSQIP.

Her group is in charge of helping faculty and staff improve care and practices before, during and after any procedure at Michigan Medicine.

An important mandate

Today is National Time Out Day, a chance for health systems to refocus on time outs and re-emphasize their importance.

But what exactly is a time out?

It’s a Joint Commission-mandated event — and a best practice — that takes place before every procedure or surgery.

“A time out is a script that you read from when everyone is in the room that confirms a patient’s name, date of birth, the site and side of the procedure, the form of any anesthesia being used, fire safety concerns and more,” Ponnaluri-Wears said.

In short, it reinforces anything that those in a room need to know before a procedure begins. Think of it as a pre-flight checklist for clinicians.

“Time outs are there to help prevent what we call ‘never events,’ or things that should never happen to a patient,” Ponnaluri-Wears said. That includes injections made in the wrong location, the wrong procedure being performed on the wrong patient or other potentially harmful mistakes.

“As a high reliability organization, it is crucial that we carry out time outs every single time for every single patient,” Ponnaluri-Wears continued. “Many people think time outs are only for events in the operating room, but that’s not the case. No matter how small of a procedure, such as starting an IV, clinicians need to pause and confirm all the details before they begin. That’s how we move forward on our journey to zero harm.”

Put into practice in your own line of work 

Whether or not you are a clinician, the idea behind time outs can be beneficial in your own line of work.

For instance, if taking down crucial information over the phone, be sure to pause and verify what the speaker on the other line is saying.

If you are writing a communication, doublecheck anyone’s name and all the crucial facts that you are relaying.

And if you are beginning a maintenance project or cleaning a room, confirm what it is that needs to be done before you start.

Many of those practices are among the HRO Universal Skills, designed to reduce medical mistakes and patient harm.

“We’re all busy and juggling dozens of things every day,” Ponnaluri-Wears said. “So help yourself by taking a time out — pause and reflect on what you are about to do. That will save yourself from work, and in many cases, keep our patients and colleagues as safe as possible.”

Learn even more about time outs — and their importance — in the video below.