Work With Us

3 Human Factors Lessons for Healthcare Design from HFES 2017

This was my fourth time attending the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society’s (HFES) International Annual Meeting, and I’m always impressed by how many domains are represented by various technical groups.  The conference covers a broad range of topics that are seemingly unrelated, yet we all have a lot in common and much to share.

HFES is a chance for professionals in the industry to connect with people from different fields — aerospace, aging, children, computer systems, ergonomics, health care, product design and safety — who may not typically cross paths. The conference allows experts from different arenas to discuss underlying common ground and share solutions.

Going to a conference is a great way to gain new tips or findings to think about while running research and design projects. Here’s what stood out as my key takeaways from the 2017 HFES International Conference:

human factors and healthcare

1. Stop Reinventing the Wheel: Borrow from Your Friends!

What do operating an airplane and using an electronic medical record have in common? During the conference, I experienced the following scenarios: A NASA expert described teamwork solutions for aerospace communication that could be used in a hospital Emergency Department. A UX designer from Facebook explained different communication methods within software platforms that could be used by electronic medical record companies.

As a trained Biomedical Engineer, I’m primarily focused within the healthcare domain, which is one of the more recent industries to adopt human factors practices, compared to aviation/transportation. Many problems healthcare providers and patients face with their environments or products are similar to those in other industries.

BORROW FROM YOUR FRIENDS: My colleagues at Bresslergroup already cross-pollinate when it comes to integrating technologies. As researchers, we should do the same and look at our domain counterparts in automotive, aerospace, nuclear, etc., for solutions before sinking effort into reinventing the wheel.

human factors and healthcare

2. Hey, Do You Have a Second? Account for Interruptions.

During my time as a Research Associate at MedStar’s National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare, I was involved with research about the frequency and duration of interruptions.

Interruptions in health care are a huge problem in hospital departments. They can vary in duration, task type, and point of disruption within a workflow along with many other factors. They happen frequently, and twenty percent of them lead to failure of the person’s primary task.

These failed tasks in health care often lead to use errors when operating medical devices and potentially result in patient harm. While there’s increasing data about their potential harm and frequency, there are few studies about improvements or solutions for the problem. This is because interruptions in health care can vary extensively in importance, ranging from “What did you bring for lunch today?” to notifying a physician of a critical patient condition. Thus, modifications need to reduce but not eliminate disruptions for a more effective workplace.

Interruptions in health care are a huge problem in hospital departments. Twenty percent of them lead to failure of the person’s primary task.

One of the primary ways to reduce interruptions is through the tools and technology used by health care professionals every day. Some hospitals currently have health care providers wear orange vests or draw a line in red tape around particular machines to indicate nurses are not to be interrupted while they’re within the boundary. Other mitigations include the addition of communication methods into medical devices and tools (such as electronic medical records) to facilitate sharing knowledge in a less interruptive manner.

ACCOUNT FOR INTERRUPTIONS: At Bresslergroup, we perform many formative and validation studies for medical devices, and we try to mimic the clinical environment in as representative a manner as possible. The research shows that interruptions are an integral part of these clinical environments. Thus, interruption tasks may need to be included to create the most representative clinical environment for simulated testing. Additionally, those of us in the design consultancy space should be encouraging and help our clients find product design solutions that alleviate this pervasive problem.

human factors and healthcare

3. Don’t Out-Design Your Audience: Design for the Intended Users.

 A common finding across the conference was the difference between various age groups during usability testing. Typically, younger user groups perform tasks faster and with fewer use errors than older populations. This was shown across domains and tasks including with some types of medical devices we frequently work on, such as blood glucose monitors, medication management apps, and others.

In the research performed by Jessica Jones and Jeff Caird, older participants were found to have significantly more difficulty completing tasks on blood glucose monitors and to make significantly more errors than younger participants. This is a trend I’ve also noted on various projects. Throughout usability testing and interviews, I’ve spoken with older users who either don’t want “bells and whistles” or don’t understand the icons on various buttons.

As technology in medical devices gets more advanced, we need to remember to not out-design any of the intended users. Sometimes, medical devices include features or icons that older audiences do not understand or want in the system.

DESIGN FOR THE INTENDED USERS: When performing research studies, we should look for trends among age groups and tailor design recommendations to accommodate those populations’ limitations and needs. In healthcare especially, it is important to design for the intended end user to ensure safe and effective use of the project.

I left the conference with new inspiration to find interesting ways to incorporate human factors into Bresslergroup’s multi-disciplinary teams and projects. I hope my takeaways inspire you to do the same in your work!

Read about Bresslergroup’s Design & User Research and Medical Product Design expertise.