Applying human factors to improve patient safety in healthcare

  • Peter Brennan

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Human error is as old as humankind itself and widely recognised as a significant cause of mistakes. Much of the research i this area has originated from high-risk organisations (HROs) including commercial aviation, where even simple mistakes can be catastrophic. A failure to understand and recognise how Human Factors (HF), especially those that affect performance and team working, can cotribute or lead to serious medical error is still widespread across healthcare. Sadly, this commonly occurs in the operating theatre, one of the most dangerous places in hospital.
While attitudes and acceptance of pre-surgery briefings has improved using the World Health Service (WHO) Surgical Checklist, thos does not address other 'personal' factors that can lead to error incluidng stress, fatigue, emotional status, hunger and situational awareness.
Following initial work aroud HF perception amongst operating theatre teams, my research has lead to significant delivery changes to the high stakes Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons (MRCS) examination, taken by up tp 6,500 junior doctors per year. After recognising boredom and fatigue in examiners, further published studies found an improvement in examiner morale with no significant changes in exam reliability or overall candiate outcome. These changes have improved patient safety ata a National level. Other high stakes National Events have been evaluated where repetative assessment occurs during long days, providing reassurance to organisers and the General Medical Council.
28 HF-related publications (forming a small part of my overall portfolio of over 560 publication) have been included in this work, including several reviews of important personal factors that affect performance and how these can be optimised at work.
There is still along way to go to make healthcare as safe as other HROs and further work is continuing in this regard from local to National level.
Date of AwardApr 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Portsmouth
SupervisorGraham Mills (Supervisor)

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