Improving patient and heathcare provider safety


How human factors makes an impact in healthcare

In the healthcare sector, human factors experts aim to support clinical staff in delivering safe, high-quality care by researching all aspects of the clinical environment, including equipment, workspace, work practices, organisational structure, safety procedures and training with the aim of ensuring that the system in which they work in runs as smoothly and safely as possible. See the video by researchers at Loughborough University about systems thinking in healthcare.

Human factors experts help to identify potential risks to patient care and propose solutions that fit both patients and staff. When incidents happen, human factors experts can examine what went wrong and propose ways to prevent such an incident happening in the future. Our members work in a range of healthcare fields. Watch the video of Alex Lang and read other members’ case studies, reports and articles below.

White Paper launch

On 4th October, we are launching our White Paper on human factors in healthcare which sets out CIEHF's vision for integration of Human Factors in Health and Social Care. The event is a great opportunity for individuals working in Health and Social Care (clinical and non-clinical) to understand how Human Factors expertise can help and benefit patients, staff and their organisations. Find out more.

Education and training in human factors in healthcare

The CIEHF accredits a number of academic degree courses and vocational training courses, a growing number of which centre on healthcare.


Sue Hignett, Professor of Healthcare Ergonomics & Patient Safety, Loughborough University

What’s the most significant contribution human factors is making to patient safety?
Right now, definitely in medical device design. We’re finding that a lot of our graduate students are being employed by medical device companies as the latest international standards (particularly from the US) require human factors usability as part of medical device design. Drug delivery devices is a particularly active area, with many global pharma companies employing human factors teams to lead on this.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your sector?
To quote Bob Wears, a patient safety expert and emergency room doctor from the US, “healthcare doesn’t employ safety scientists”. In the UK, we’re not seeing human factors professionals being brought in. Back in the 1980/90s when staff wellbeing was a big topic and the EU directive landed, we saw a rise in ergonomists being employed across healthcare. Back then I worked in a Nottinghamshire hospital, it was calculated by the Health & Safety Executive that we saved the Trust over £3.5million thanks to our work to reduce staff absence due to musculoskeletal-related conditions. We’re seeing a lot of interest from doctors and those across the medical profession, however, many are trying to integrate human factors on top of their own jobs and it’s just not working. Human factors is a specialist profession and it is my belief that every NHS Trust must employ those experts, or at the very least, someone with a post-graduate certificate in human factors.

What are you most excited about in your sector?
At Loughborough University, we’re working on an exciting new research project with the Ministry of Defence on a global challenge to make healthcare safer. We hope through the HUMAN-FIIT project, that in 25 years time we will see the engagement at all the right levels to make human factors mandatory across the healthcare system as it is now in defence. Please follow @HUMAN-FIIT: Human Factors (Ergonomics) Integration & Investigation research team on Twitter for all our updates. Whilst our NHS is very fragmented, I’m excited to see pockets of best practice springing up. We’re seeing many more healthcare staff getting their post-grad certificates from lots of hospitals and as mentioned before, the medical device industry is also helping our specialists make inroads into the healthcare system.

What advice do you have for students and CIEHF members keen to enter the healthcare sector?
Right now, medical device companies are a great option, the jobs are plentiful, and the opportunities to learn and make an impact are there. From a professional development point of view, I would say that we must value our professional time, and step aside from the budget uncertainty across the NHS. Myself and many of my colleagues are being asked to consult on a voluntary basis, which in the long-term could damage our profession. I’m also seeing the term ‘human factors’ disappearing or being absorbed into quality initiatives. It is vital that where human factors is being used, that we stand up and shout about it!

Case studies

From our free downloadable publication Human Connection I:

  • Designing for patient safety
  • Safer neonatal care
  • Improving birthing pool design

From our free downloadable publication Human Connection II:

  • Supporting resuscitation of new-born babies
  • Safely moving a hospital
  • Improving posture for self-injection


More case studies:

Healthcare technology challenges for tiny users

Posted on 5/12/2015
John Crowe and colleagues describe the process of developing a pulse monitor for newborn babies.

Actual v simulated use in human factors testing of medical devices

Posted on 5/12/2015
Before medical devices can be used by the public they need to be tested, either with actual patients or through the use of simulation. Richard Featherstone discusses the advantages and pitfalls of these two types of testing.

User-centred design of a clinical guidelines app

Posted on 5/12/2015
Adrian Kwa describes the process of designing an app that allows doctors to access clinical guidelines quickly.

A user-centred approach to patient information

Posted on 5/12/2015
Researchers investigate the design of patient information for medical investigations and tests.

Designing out medical error

Posted on 5/12/2015
Researchers took a systems approach to the design of the healthcare processes, equipment, environment and information used in the bed-space of a typical surgical ward.

Healthcare apps: uses and limitations

Posted on 5/12/2015
Michael Craven and colleagues discuss the potential and the problems associated with using apps to support patients and carry out healthcare research.