Various factors influence the adoption of ergonomics in health care organizations

Research Activities, April 2011, No. 368

Human factors science (ergonomics) is a multidisciplinary field that looks at how humans interact with technology and other systems, particularly from design, engineering, and psychological standpoints. Human factors and ergonomics (HFE) involves designing the workplace environment to fit the user. HFE knowledge, methods, and tools can be used to improve patient safety when they are implemented in the health care setting. Researchers are now beginning to understand the characteristics that can either promote or hinder the development of HFE innovations in health care organizations. A recent review of the topic underscores the importance of local champions who can facilitate the adoption and long-term sustainability of HFE in these environments.

HFE encompasses the physical, cognitive, and organizational aspects of ergonomics when it comes to patient safety, notes the author, Pascale Carayon, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For example, research into HFE's physical aspect can identify stressors placed on nurses that may affect how patients are handled and cared for. This may result in design changes for workstations, improved lighting, and noise-level reduction. The cognitive aspect of HFE assesses human error, workload, or the usability of a medical device. This may lead to suitable training sessions and appropriate technology acceptance. Finally, the organizational elements of HFE focus on teamwork and the high-risk processes of patient care. From this, work schedules may be adjusted to reduce fatigue and other teamwork or organizational interventions may be put in place.

According to the review, several barriers can challenge the facilitation of HFE in health care organizations. If the HFE intervention or innovation is too complex or employees do not understand the benefits of HFE, adoption can be hindered. When employees can actually experience the positive impact of HFE on their day-to-day tasks (e.g., improved working conditions), it is more likely that these innovations will be accepted and used to their fullest over the long haul. Having individuals who champion the cause at the local user level, such as a head nurse, can influence the way other employees become early and lasting adopters. The study was supported in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS15274).

See "Human factors in patient safety as an innovation," by Dr. Carayon, in the September 2010 Applied Ergonomics 41(5), pp. 657-665.

Current as of April 2011
Internet Citation: Various factors influence the adoption of ergonomics in health care organizations: Research Activities, April 2011, No. 368. April 2011. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.