Human factors, also known as ‘ergonomics’, is much more widely talked about in healthcare now than it was when my first wife died during in an attempted routine operation in 2005. When I started talking to clinicians and managers about human factors I got lots of blank looks, however much has changed since then
Human factors is still sometimes regarded as a ‘specialist’ topic that is out of the reach of most clinicians. Whilst it’s true that human factors is a science, its impact on us all is profound and something that influences almost every minute of the day; whether at work or home.
Yes it can be complex, but often the principles are remarkably simple and require just a little bit of thought to put into action. The simplicity of human factors issues in the Deepwater Horizon disaster are in stark contrast to the technical complexity of what happened, but it would appear that it was the human element that allowed the disaster to happen.
The increasing interest in this topic led to the Patient Safety First campaign commissioning a ‘How to’ guide to human factors in 2009: Implementing Human Factors in Healthcare. The guide was written by the Clinical Human Factors Group and, to be honest, I’m not sure how many of my colleagues at Patient Safety First thought it would be of great interest (subsequently it was the second most downloaded of the thirteen ‘How To Guides’), but I wasn’t surprised by its success!
That original guide is still relevant and provides an excellent introduction to human factors in healthcare. It’s split into two parts: the first looks at organisational issues, and the second covers more personal strategies that individual clinicians will find useful.
The good news is that, as a result of the higher profile that human factors is rightly receiving now, there are many clinicians, managers and policy makers who’ve implemented projects and ideas. So this got me thinking, and I started to recognise that a more advanced ‘manual’ was needed.
Over the last few months the Clinical Human Factors Group have been developing a ‘volume 2’ of the guide, and it’s now available: Implementing Human Factors in healthcare ‘Taking further steps’ explores the concepts of the first volume in much more depth, and highlights the breadth of application of human factors, for example in design. There is also an accompanying booklet of case studies and implementation tips.
All professionals want to do everything they can to avoid getting it wrong. Understanding human factors, whether at the organisational or personal level, is the thing that can make all the difference.
Martin is a pilot and the founder and current Chair of the Clinical Human Factors Group, www.twitter.com/MartinBromiley.