Example of a Human Factors Engineering approach to a medication administration work system: potential impact on patient safety

Int J Med Inform. 2010 Apr;79(4):e43-57. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmedinf.2009.07.002. Epub 2009 Sep 8.


Objective: The objectives of this paper are: In this approach, the implementation of such a complex IT solution is considered a major redesign of the work system. The paper describes the Human Factor (HF) tasks embedded in the project lifecycle: (1) analysis and modelling of the current work system and usability assessment of the medication CPOE solution; (2) HF recommendations for work re-design and usability recommendations for IT system re-engineering both aiming at a safer and more efficient work situation.

Methods: Standard ethnographic methods were used to support the analysis of the current work system and work situations, coupled with cognitive task analysis methods and documents review. Usability inspection (heuristic evaluation) and both in-lab (simulated tasks) and on-site (real tasks) usability tests were performed for the evaluation of the CPOE candidate. Adapted software engineering models were used in combination with usual textual descriptions, tasks models and mock-ups to support the recommendations for work and product re-design.

Results: The analysis of the work situations identified different work organisations and procedures across the hospital's departments. The most important differences concerned the doctor-nurse communications and cooperation modes and the procedures for preparing and administering the medications. The assessment of the medication CPOE functions uncovered a number of usability problems including severe ones leading to impossible to detect or to catch errors. Models of the actual and possible distribution of tasks and roles were used to support decision making in the work design process. The results of the usability assessment were translated into requirements to support the necessary re-engineering of the IT application.

Conclusion: The HFE approach to medication CPOE efficiently identifies and distinguishes currently unsafe or uncomfortable work situations that could obviously benefit from an IT solution from other work situations incorporating efficient work procedures that might be impaired by the implementation of the CPOE. In this context, a careful redesign of the work situation and of the entire work system is necessary to actually benefit from the installation of the product in terms of patient safety and human performances. In parallel, a usability assessment of the product to be implemented is mandatory to identify potentially dangerous usability flaws and to fix them before the installation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / methods*
  • Delivery of Health Care / organization & administration
  • Ergonomics / methods*
  • France
  • Medical Errors / prevention & control*
  • Medical Order Entry Systems / organization & administration*
  • Medication Systems, Hospital / organization & administration*
  • Risk Management / methods
  • Risk Management / organization & administration
  • Safety Management / organization & administration*
  • Software
  • Software Design
  • Telemedicine / methods
  • Telemedicine / organization & administration*