Automation failures and patient safety

Curr Opin Anaesthesiol. 2020 Dec;33(6):788-792. doi: 10.1097/ACO.0000000000000935.


Purpose of review: The goal of automation is to decrease the anesthesiologist's workload and to decrease the possibility of human error. Automated systems introduce problems of its own, however, including loss of situation awareness, leaving the physician out of the loop, and training physicians how to monitor autonomous systems. This review will discuss the growing role of automated systems in healthcare and describe two types of automation failures.

Recent findings: An automation surprise occurs when an automated system takes an action that is unexpected by the user. Mode confusion occurs when the operator does not understand what an automated system is programmed to do and may prevent the clinician from fully understanding what the device is doing during a critical event. Both types of automation failures can decrease a clinician's trust in the system. They may also prevent a clinician from regaining control of a failed system (e.g., a ventilator that is no longer working) during a critical event.

Summary: Clinicians should receive generalized training on how to manage automation and should also be required to demonstrate competency before using medical equipment that employs automation, including electronic health records, infusion pumps, and ventilators.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia / methods*
  • Anesthetics / administration & dosage*
  • Automation / methods*
  • Equipment Failure
  • Humans
  • Patient Safety*
  • Workload


  • Anesthetics