There is potential in the medical field – the potential to heal, the potential to injure, the potential to see a new life begin, and the potential to end a life. The information from the bedside cardiac monitor can save a life if interpreted correctly; this opportunity can be lost if the information is wrong, misinterpreted, or unseen. Similarly, the leads from a device can be the source of critical information, or can kill if plugged into the wrong piece of equipment. These are user-machine interface issues, and one of the important domains of the clinical engineer. Human factors research deals with the implications of this crossing point — how to apply what happens in the lab, clinical testing and theoretical design to actual use. Cognitive psychology, a subset of human factors, helps describe natural human responses to errors and failures. Understanding the difference between active and latent failures, and slips and mistakes, as well as the general causes of operator and human error, and what is known about controlling them, can facilitate solutions to many problems of medical device misadventures.
Department of Biomedical Engineering, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-3120