“Human factors examines the relationship between human beings and the systems with which they interact by focusing on improving efficiency, creativity, productivity and job satisfaction, with the goal of minimizing errors,” a World Health Organization publication suggests. “A failure to apply human factors principles is a key aspect of most adverse events in health care.”
Human factors crosses over many disciplines (anatomy, physiology, physics and biomechanics) to understand how people perform under different circumstances, and when studied and applied systematically, can contribute to more productivity and job satisfaction for healthcare professionals.
An awareness of human factors, and a commitment to invest in understanding and improving those human factors leads organizations to design processes that improve the ability of individuals and teams to deliver not only the highest quality of care, but the safest.
Comprehensive human factors programs support safe practices, ensure accurate and appropriate prescribing of medications, and provide for clearer communications and information management.
While they have always played a role in productive and effective healthcare, at times, given the increased complexity and fragmentation of services and systems, there can be “unintended consequences” when too much time is spent with machines leaving not enough time to really connect with humans.
The healthcare industry, and the health of society as a whole, depends on humans, the doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, specialists, pharmacists and others.
The right human factors platforms can make it easier for healthcare providers to care for patients, but only when those programs are cognizant of providing care in the context of change (including regulatory and economic change, new software systems, new medical equipment and more). Human factors practices can and should differ from one hospital or clinic to the next, based on the particulars found within different neighborhoods serving different populations with different levels of resources.
Human factors principles can be adapted in order to ultimately reduce or eliminate adverse events often associated with lack of communications or miscommunications, and applied in different settings, from trauma centers where acting quickly can save lives, to the ICU where care is provided by larger teams of experts, to ambulatory care with less extreme cases and real-time pressures.
Excellent human factors design accommodates all the participants in a care system, and thoughtfully lays out the best practices based on specific circumstances and specialties.
Excellent human factors design takes into account both the ideal situation, when a patient is cared for by a well-rested, experienced and confident physician, but also when a patient is being served by a professional who may be exhausted, overwhelmed or otherwise stressed out.
Whether designed for human-to-machine or human-to-human communications, when quality human factors are instilled in the operations of healthcare facilities and – most importantly – embedded into the culture – we can find the right balance teaming technology and people together to get the work done more successfully.
This leads to better medical outcomes, better patient experience, better economics, and happier professionals who are able to be productive while still enjoying the reason the majority of doctors and nurses chose healthcare as a profession – to care compassionately for others.
Human beings are not machines.
Machines, when maintained, are predictable and reliable.
Human beings, while not as predictable and reliable simply due to the limitations of our energy and memory, are more creative, self-aware, flexible and comforting than machines will ever be.
It is at the intersection of machines and humans, of software and systems, that we have unlimited opportunities to create the right mix to deliver the best care and drive the best outcomes for all.