Human Factors in Healthcare - Helping to Mitigate Errors

If you work in healthcare in the UK, whether for the NHS or private sector, the chances are you’ll have heard of Human Factors (HF). Its benefits have been highlighted by the UK’s Clinical Human Factors Group (CHFG) which includes:

‘Enhancing clinical performance through an understanding of the effects of teamwork, tasks, equipment, workspace, culture, organisation on human behaviour and abilities, and application of that knowledge in clinical settings.’ This puts it in a clinical context and highlights what many outside the sector may not know: that human factors theory is used widely to improve the performance of healthcare professionals.

How can HF integration help in a healthcare setting?

By providing the following benefits:

  • Making procedures and processes more uniform
  • Introducing checklists that are designed with the end users in mind - minimising errors
  • Employees have sufficient training to operate equipment effectively and the equipment is fit for purpose
  • The working environment is comfortable and conducive to people performing at their best
  • Lowering the number of sick days and absences due to stress, fatigue and work overload
  • More effective shift rotation for junior doctors

Focusing on mitigating errors

The NHS Litigation Authority’s annual report has revealed it faces a bill of up to £25.6 billion in 2014 to cover clinical negligence claims. (2) This area is a major concern not just for those patients involved and their families, but also for the NHS and wider society. The more money the NHS has to pay out in compensation for things such as surgical errors, the more pressure will be put on healthcare budgets at both national and local level.

Areas where HF integration is of benefit

HF integration can help with a great many things in a modern hospital setting. We’ve outlined some examples for you below of how it can help cut down errors, save lives and reduce risk of unintended harm and near misses.
  • Implementing ways to avoid distractions when treating patients or administering drugs
  • Minimise unintended risk of harm and near misses
  • Improve communication between surgical teams including safer surgical checklists - developed by surgeons for surgeons
  • Encouraging a drive towards not-mitigated speech
  • Improving briefings and debriefings through ‘toolbox talks’
  • Addressing areas that cause fatigue, stress and overload
  • Improving the physical environment such as lighting, heating and drug storage as well as workplace and tool ergonomics
  • Cut down on incorrect diagnosis from GPs

Research published by the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 2011 found that there was a strong link between briefing practices and attitudes towards safety in a surgical environment. (3) Implementing a holistic HF strategy in a hospital or other healthcare environment can improve staff morale, help save money by avoiding duplication, improve patient care as well as reducing the likelihood of near misses and potentially costly errors


(1) The UK’s Clinical Human Factors Group (CHFG) (2) (3)