Does healthcare pay enough attention to human factors?

The importance of human factors within high risk environments such as rail, aviation and oil and gas is well documented.  One of the main reasons for this is that the consequences of ignoring human factors in these types of environments could potentially be catastrophic and lead to large loss of life.  It is therefore surprising that a high risk environment where there is less awareness of human factors is within the healthcare sector. Especially when some studies have concluded that more people die from medical error each year than in road accidents or individual forms of cancer.
Applying human factors principles is key in aspects such as the design of medical equipment, design of labelling on medication packs, procedures and training for healthcare staff as well as addressing cultural/hierarchical difficulties which could impact on communication. 
The Clinical Human Factors Group (CHFG) is a charity which has brought together a group of experts and clinicians in an effort to increase awareness of human factors within healthcare environments.  In addition, The Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors has its own Healthcare Group and they are currently trying to raise the profile of this topic.  
One of the main problems currently seems to be acceptance that human factors has a role to play within this sector: this maybe due to a lack of understanding of the topic or because of the culture of the healthcare system.  It is the goal of both of these groups to challenge and change this and to improve safety within healthcare.
This amazing video gives some insight into the role of human factors in critical surgical environments and makes the point that these issues are well understood and accepted within aviation – why not in healthcare?

Just A Routine Operation from thinkpublic on Vimeo.




  1. Anonymous Says: April 8, 2010 at 8:26 am

    Very interesting to read about raising the profile of Human Factors in the medical industry. As a HF practioner one of my mantras to others is the need for HF wherever there is a human element and in the past I have been asked about HF in the medical industry. My response has been that it is 'not a safety critical industry' in the same way as rail, aviation, nuclear etc and therefore although there is a human element, it is not as significant. However, in light of this blog I will need to change my thinkng and be more conscious of HF in the medical industry.

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