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May 2011

The Need for a Broader View of Human Factors in the Surgical Domain

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice, Richard L. Roudebush Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Indiana University Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research, and Regenstrief Institute, Inc, Indianapolis (Drs Saleem and Russ), and Department of Pharmacy Practice, Purdue University College of Pharmacy, West Lafayette (Dr Russ), Indiana; School of Allied Medical Professions, College of Medicine, The Ohio State University, Columbus (Dr Patterson); Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Florida, Jacksonville (Dr Wears); and Clinical Safety Research Unit, Imperial College London, England (Dr Wears).

Arch Surg. 2011;146(5):631-632. doi:10.1001/archsurg.2011.72

We were excited to see a study by Cahan et al1 reporting on “human factors” curriculum for surgical clerkship students in the December 2010 issue of the Archives of Surgery. Human factors research is underutilized in health care and has tremendous potential benefit to improve health care systems and patient safety. However, the human factors curriculum reported in the article covers only a small fraction of the scientific discipline of human factors,2 as the accompanying critique shows.3 As Hu and Greenberg3 note, an accurate and comprehensive understanding of the term human factors is needed before a human factors curriculum in surgery can be designed.3 The purpose of this correspondence is to provide the basis for that understanding, written from the perspective of human factors professionals, so that readers of Archives can have a broader appreciation for the potential benefits of a partnership with human factors professionals. The science of human factors is concerned with the design of technology, processes, and work systems so that they are compatible with human cognitive and physical capabilities and limitations. Thus, although the curriculum described by Cahan et al1 addresses an important void in communication skills and training for surgical students, it is not fully representative of the science of human factors. Examples of human factors problems related to the surgical environment that are not covered by Cahan et al1 but that would be highly beneficial to surgical professionals would include: