An Integrated Literature Review of Time-on-Task Effects With a Pragmatic Framework for Understanding and Improving Decision-Making in Multidisciplinary Oncology Team Meetings

Tayana Soukup*, Benjamin W Lamb, Matthias Weigl, James S A Green, Nick Sevdalis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Multidisciplinary oncology team meetings (MDMs) or tumor boards, like other MDMs in healthcare, facilitate the incorporation of diverse clinical expertise into treatment planning for patients. Decision-making (DM) in relation to treatment planning in MDMs is carried out repeatedly until all patients put forward for discussion have been reviewed. Despite continuing financial pressure and staff shortages, the workload of cancer MDMs, and therefore meeting duration continue to increase (up to 5 h) with patients often receiving less than 2 min of team input. This begs the question as to whether the current set-up is conducive to achieve optimal DM, which these multi-specialty teams were set out to achieve in the first place. Much of what it is known, however, about the effects of prolonged cognitive activity comes from various subfields of science, leaving a gap in applied knowledge relating to complex healthcare environments. The objective of this review was thus to synthesize theory, evidence and clinical practice in order to bring the current understanding of prolonged, repeated DM into the context of cancer MDMs. We explore how and why time spent on a task affects performance in such settings, and what strategies can be employed by cancer teams to counteract negative effects and improve quality and safety. In the process, we propose a pragmatic framework of repeated DM that encompasses the strength, the process and the cost-benefit models of self-control as applied to real-world contexts of cancer MDMs. We also highlight promising research avenues for closing the research-to-practice gap. Theoretical and empirical evidence reviewed in this paper suggests that over prolonged time spent on a task, repeated DM is cognitively taxing, leading to performance detriments. This deterioration is associated with various cognitive-behavioral pitfalls, including decreased attentional capacity and reduced ability to effectively evaluate choices, as well as less analytical DM and increased reliance on heuristics. As a short to medium term improvement for ensuring safety, consistently high quality of care for all patients, and the clinician wellbeing, future research and interventions in cancer MDMs should address time-on-task effects with a combination of evidence-based cognitive strategies. We propose in this review multiple measures that range from food intake, short breaks, rewards, and mental exercises. As a long term imperative, however, capacity within cancer services needs to be reviewed as well as how best to plan workforce development and service delivery models to achieve population coverage whilst maintaining safety and quality of care. Hence the performance detriments that arise in healthcare workers as a result of the intensity (time spent on a task) and complexity of the workload require not only more research, but also wider regulatory focus and recognition.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1245
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Issue numberMAY
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2019


  • Cancer multidisciplinary team
  • Cancer multidisciplinary team meeting
  • Cognitive fatigue
  • Cognitive Strategies
  • Decision fatigue
  • Decision Making
  • Intervention
  • Mental Fatigue
  • Multidisciplinary oncology team
  • Multidisciplinary oncology team meetings
  • Self-Control
  • Tumour boards


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