Journal Review

Ergonomics research offers patient safety tips

A recent issue of Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contains a special section of nine articles that focus on research designed to identify patient safety issues that can be addressed from an ergonomics perspective.1 Four of the nine articles directly relate to surgery and offer the following insights:

Minimally invasive surgery (MIS) relies heavily on imaging devices that display the inside of the body. Despite its benefits to patients, MIS presents challenges to surgeons because of reduced field of view and degraded depth perception. Research presented in the article "Toward the improvement of image-guided interventions for Minimally invasive surgery: Three factors that affect performance" [DeLucia PR, Mather RD, Griswold JA, et al, pp. 23-38] shows that navigation performance in MIS may be improved with the development of a mental model of the surgical environment, with a surgeon-controlled camera, and with an image design that reduces visual illusions.

Something as simple as using capital letters to highlight sections of drug names on labels may lead to fewer errors in dispensing drugs that have similar-looking names. The article "Labeling of medicines and patient safety: Evaluating methods of reducing drug name confusion" [Filik R, Purdy K, Gerrett D, pp. 39-47] compares the use of color and capital letters to differentiate between medication names. Results of their research show that the use of capital letters is more effective.

When sudden changes occur in patients under anesthesia, anesthesiologists rely on displays to help them identify the problem and solve it. In "The right picture is worth a thousand numbers: Data displays in anesthesia," authors Frank A. Drews and Dwayne R. Westenskow [pp. 59-71] present a literature review that demonstrates improved patient safety when graphical displays are used.

Providing feedback to anesthesiologists as they are administering medications during surgery is critical to patient safety. The article "Drug delivery as control task: Improving performance in a common anesthetic task" [Drews FA, Syroid N, Agutter J, et al, pp. 84-94] concludes that when anesthesiologists are able to view a display that visualized drug concentrations in a simulated patient, they could more precisely and safely monitor anesthesia. (Editor's note: To purchase a copy of the issue that contains the special section on patient safety, go to Choose "publications" on left navigational bar, then select "Human Factors." Scroll down to section on "back issues" to access order form and request "Volume 48, Number 1, Spring 2006." Cost for back issues for nonmembers is $67 plus $10 for shipping and handling. Copies of individual articles can be ordered on-line for $2 per page. Choose "Publications," then select "Periodicals Article Index" and follow instructions to order articles.)


  1. Special section: Patient Safety. Human Factors: J Human Factors Ergonomics Society 2006; 48:1-108.