by Paul Levy

First posted on (Not) Running a Hospital on 02/14/2013

Paul Levy, Host of (Not) Running a Hospital

This question from a nurse patient safety specialist in the Midwest US showed up on a patient safety list-serve run by the National Patient Safety Foundation:

We do not currently have any solidly trained human factors engineering employees in our team.  I have enough knowledge of human factors (and enough clinical experience) to recognize how easy it is to make a bad decision. How did you get your training in human factors? I do have some training, but would not consider myself an expert by any means. I know enough to be concerned that I know so little!

Eric Streicher at MedStar, which has a strong program in this area through its affiliated National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare, graciously answered:  “See the University of Wisconsin Center for Quality and Productivity Improvement course on human factors and patient safety.” This made me curious, and I found an excellent short course described:

Today, CQPI’s Systems Engineering Initiative for Patient Safety (SEIPS) is the foremost leader in applying Human Factors and Systems Engineering to the patient safety challenge. 

The SEIPS Human Factors and Patient Safety short course is designed to provide an understanding of human factors and systems engineering and how these patient safety approaches can improve performance, prevent harm when error does occur, help systems recover from error, and mitigate further harm.

This course is designed for all physicians, nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, engineers, patient safety officers, chief information officers, and other professionals interested in human factors engineering and patient safety.

This is an area that deserves greater attention.  As the folks at MedStar note: 

Human Factors is applied to healthcare to design processes, devices, and systems that support the work of care givers in medicine. Specific benefits of Human Factors  and System Safety Engineering applied to healthcare include:
  • Efficient care processes in medical care
  • Effective communication between medical care providers
  • Better understanding of a patient’s current medical condition
  • Implementation of effective and sustainable RCA solutions
  • Reduced risk of medical device use error
  • Easier to use (or more intuitive) devices
  • Reduced risk of health IT-related Use error
  • Easier to use (or more intuitive) health IT
  • Reduced need for training
  • Easier repair and maintenance
  • Cost savings through prevention and mitigation of adverse events
  • Safer working conditions in medicine
  • Improved patient outcomes

Human Factors evaluations and interventions should take place early in the design and system development process. It should include tools such as work domain analysis, function allocation, probabilistic risk assessment, usability testing, among others.