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Value of human factors to medication and patient safety in the intensive care unit

Scanlon, Matthew C. MD; Karsh, Ben-Tzion PhD

doi: 10.1097/CCM.0b013e3181dd8de2

Conventional wisdom suggests that the “human factor” in critical care environments is reason for inadequate medication and patient safety. “Human factors” (or human factors engineering) is also a scientific discipline and practice of improving human performance. Using decades of human factors research, this paper evaluates a range of common beliefs about patient safety through a human factors lens. This evaluation demonstrates that human factors provides a framework for understanding safety failures in critical care settings, offers insights into how to improve medication and patient safety, and reminds us that the “human factor” in critical care units is what allows these time-pressured, information-intense, mentally challenging, interruption-laden, and life-or-death environments to function so safely so much of the time.

From the Department of Pediatrics (MCS), Critical Care, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI; and the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering (B-TK), University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI.

This study was supported, in part, by Grants AHRQ 1 R01 HS013610 from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (B-TK), and National Institutes of Health-National Library of Medicine 1R01LM008923-01A1 from NIH-NLM (B-TK).

The authors have not disclosed any potential conflicts of interest.

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© 2010 by the Society of Critical Care Medicine and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins