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The pursuit of better diagnostic performance: a human factors perspective
  1. Kerm Henriksen,
  2. Jeff Brady
  1. US Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, Maryland, USA
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kerm Henriksen, US Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 540 Gaither Road, Rockville, MD 20850, USA; Kerm.Henriksen{at}


Despite the relatively slow start in treating diagnostic error as an amenable research topic at the beginning of the patient safety movement, interest has steadily increased over the past few years in the form of solicitations for research, regularly scheduled conferences, an expanding literature and even a new professional society. Yet improving diagnostic performance increasingly is recognised as a multifaceted challenge. With the aid of a human factors perspective, this paper addresses a few of these challenges, including questions that focus on who owns the problem, treating cognitive and system shortcomings as separate issues, why knowledge in the head is not enough, and what we are learning from health information technology (IT) and the use of checklists. To encourage empirical testing of interventions that aim to improve diagnostic performance, a systems engineering approach making use of rapid-cycle prototyping and simulation is proposed. To gain a fuller understanding of the complexity of the sociotechnical space where diagnostic work is performed, a final note calls for the formation of substantive partnerships with those in disciplines beyond the clinical domain.

  • Diagnostic errors
  • Human factors
  • Information technology
  • Checklists
  • Simulation

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