In order to improve patient safety, health services are looking to other industries’ experiences and as a result are adopting a systems approach to learning from error, rather than simply focusing the blame on the individual. However, in health care the individual will remain an important contributor to safety and this paper looks at other literatures besides health to consider a number of individual characteristics and the role they might play in terms of work practices that affect patient safety. It considers the effects of a variety of personality profiles including sensation seeking, Type A, and those with high self esteem; looks at our ability to select for psychological wellbeing; and discusses the ways that psychometrics have been used in medicine to predict performance. It concludes that although rarely used, psychometrics has been shown to be useful in predicting some aspects of performance in medicine and suggests that this is an area well worth further study for the benefit of patient care. Nevertheless, we are a long way away from being able to select safer staff and should instead be developing this knowledge to enable us to recognise and address potential difficulties.
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