Category Archives: Healthcare Human Factors


Back in the 90s when I was a free-healed, adventurous young man, many a rock climbing outing was set to the sound track of the Irish rock band U2. Eventually, the title of one of their popular albums became the sounding alert of any hazard my companions and I faced. Whether a rattlesnake on the trail, a long unprotected stretch of vertical rock, or a loose boulder on the descent, “Achtung baby!” was shouted out in warning. This playful call to attention was usually sufficient for a couple of guys in the wilderness, but in the often high stakes environment of today’s technological (and often highly automated) world, the design of alerts and warnings requires some thoughtful consideration. Although the terms alert, warning, and alarm are often used interchangeably, they can be differentiated by the level of urgency required in response. Alerts are generally described as an information display generated … Continue reading

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Last week (Oct 2-3), I attended a meeting addressing the challenges and issues related to the interoperability of medical devices hosted jointly by the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH).  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss challenges, share best practices, and develop ideas for moving forward to address the issues raised. Human factors and usability issues were raised throughout the meeting, as you would expect when discussing the design and development of a complex system made up of many other systems, and all the systems have many and varied users.  There are several factors that increase system design challenges, and they all arise when addressing medical device interoperability as the design of a large system made up of all inter-related and interfacing systems.  Examples include: defining and documenting the functions and attributes of … Continue reading

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Healthcare has a lot in common with Aviation when it comes to Human Factors issues. Beyond the fact that humans are performing the jobs, they seem like really different fields.  However, on closer consideration there are several important ways that they are similar … and represent opportunities for one field to benefit from the other field’s lessons learned. Just a few ways that the fields of healthcare and aviation are similar: Environment – The tasks are performed in a highly dynamic, complex, stressful environment.  The human must maintain an awareness of all relevant aspects of the situation and communicate accurately and efficiently to others around them. Timing – There may be long periods of uneventful monitoring of a situation, followed by an unexpected, life-threatening crisis that they must troubleshoot and resolve. Professionals working in teams – The people working in the fields are highly-trained and must rely on other highly-trained … Continue reading

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