Human Factors research highlights ways to improve patient safety

SANTA MONICA, CA The latest issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contains a special section describing ways in which human factors/ergonomics professionals are improving health care.

Guest editor Eduardo Salas notes in his preface, "we hope that this special section encourages research, debate, new ideas, better theories, practical interventions, and useful findings to ameliorate errors in health care....The most significant factor in making the nation's health care system safer is the human element. And that is our business."

Nine articles cover a wide range of devices, systems, and processes. Several of the articles cover findings and recommendations for improved medical displays:

  • Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) relies heavily on imaging devices that display the inside of the body. Despite its benefits to patients, MIS presents challenges to surgeons because of reduced field of view and degraded depth perception. The results of DeLucia and colleagues suggest ways that surgeons can navigate better during MIS.
  • Something as simple as using capital ("tall man") letters to highlight sections of drug names on labels may lead to fewer errors in dispensing drugs that have similar-looking names. Filik et al. found that using tall man letters to emphasize differences in similar names resulted in increased attention to high-risk drug names.
  • When sudden changes occur in patients under anesthesia, anesthesiologists rely on displays to help them identify the problem and remedy it. This literature review by Drews and Westenskow shows that graphical displays can improve patient safety, though few are in use today. They suggest ways to improve such displays.
  • Providing feedback to the user is critical in ensuring that a procedure is being performed accurately. Drews and colleagues found that when anesthesiologists were able to view a display that visualized drug concentrati

Contact: Lois Smith
Human Factors and Ergonomics Society

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