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Defining human factors

Human characteristics and workplaces

What is meant by human factors?

Three physicians looking at computer screenThe science of human factors studies the human characteristics, capabilities, and limitations that affect how people interact with their environments, including workplaces.

In healthcare, human factors helps us to understand many of the contributors to adverse events (accidents in Québec). Such knowledge can facilitate design of better systems to prevent or mitigate harm to patients.

Human factors encompasses many areas including:

A person's ability to think, reason, and make decisions

A healthcare provider's mental and physical state can interfere with analysis of problems, planning and communicating treatment decisions, and the ability to work in a team.

Cognitive abilities can be affected by such factors as:
  • lack of sleep, anxiety, anger, sadness
  • cognitive and affective biases
  • situational awareness
  • alcohol, drugs, and prescription medications
  • physical health conditions and depression

Workplace factors

Interruptions, irrelevant conversations, and noises can be distracting and affect performance.

Ergonomics and how people use equipment and technology

The design of equipment and user interfaces can either facilitate or interfere with their proper use.