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Human Factors and Error in Perinatal Care: The Interplay Between Nurses, Machines, and the Work Environment

Mahlmeister, Laura R. PhD, RN

The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing: January-March 2010 - Volume 24 - Issue 1 - p 12–21
doi: 10.1097/JPN.0b013e3181cdb6e0
Feature Articles

Perinatal nurses work with intricate systems requiring frequent interface with complex technology. This interplay is strongly influenced by the work environment and systems operations. The interplay among worker, technology, and the environment increases the risk of medical error, adverse patient outcomes, and in some instances, healthcare team member injury. Human factors engineering is an applied science that provides the study of the interface between people and machines. Human factors engineers design operations and systems that recognize the capacities and limitations of human beings and make it difficult for errors to occur. This article discusses the role of human factors research in healthcare design and the application of human factors engineering to perinatal settings. Recommendations are offered for the development of ultrasafe, high-reliability operations based on knowledge accrued through human factors research.

Mahlmeister & Associates, San Francisco, California; and General Hospital, San Francisco, California.

Corresponding Author: Laura R. Mahlmeister, PhD, RN, Mahlmeister & Associates, San Francisco, CA 94002 (

Submitted for publication: December 1, 2009

Accepted for publication: December 2, 2009

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.