Article Text

The science of human factors: separating fact from fiction
  1. Alissa L Russ1,2,3,4,
  2. Rollin J Fairbanks5,6,7,
  3. Ben-Tzion Karsh8,*,
  4. Laura G Militello9,
  5. Jason J Saleem1,2,3,10,
  6. Robert L Wears11,12
  1. 1Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Services Research and Development Center on Implementing Evidence-Based Practice, Roudebush VA Medical Center, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  2. 2Regenstrief Institute, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  3. 3Indiana University Center for Health Services and Outcomes Research, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  4. 4Department of Pharmacy Practice, Purdue University College of Pharmacy, West Lafayette, Indiana, USA
  5. 5National Center for Human Factors Engineering in Healthcare, MedStar Institute for Innovation, Washington DC, USA
  6. 6Department of Emergency Medicine, Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA
  7. 7Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, USA
  8. 8Departments of Industrial and Systems Engineering, Family Medicine, and Population Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA
  9. 9Applied Decision Science, LLC, Dayton, Ohio, USA
  10. 10Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, IUPUI, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
  11. 11Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, USA
  12. 12Clinical Safety Research Unit, Imperial College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alissa L Russ, Roudebush VA Medical Center, VA HSR&D Center of Excellence, CIEBP, 1481 W. 10th St., 11-H, Indianapolis, IN 46202; alissa.russ{at}


Background Interest in human factors has increased across healthcare communities and institutions as the value of human centred design in healthcare becomes increasingly clear. However, as human factors is becoming more prominent, there is growing evidence of confusion about human factors science, both anecdotally and in scientific literature. Some of the misconceptions about human factors may inadvertently create missed opportunities for healthcare improvement.

Methods The objective of this article is to describe the scientific discipline of human factors and provide common ground for partnerships between healthcare and human factors communities.

Results The primary goal of human factors science is to promote efficiency, safety and effectiveness by improving the design of technologies, processes and work systems. As described in this article, human factors also provides insight on when training is likely (or unlikely) to be effective for improving patient safety. Finally, we outline human factors specialty areas that may be particularly relevant for improving healthcare delivery and provide examples to demonstrate their value.

Conclusions The human factors concepts presented in this article may foster interdisciplinary collaborations to yield new, sustainable solutions for healthcare quality and patient safety.

  • Human factors
  • Patient safety
  • Information technology
  • Human error
  • Quality improvement

This is an Open Access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 3.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited and the use is non-commercial. See:

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