What is HFE?

Medical Professional on Laptop

What is Human Factors Engineering & How Does it Affect the
Public Sector?

Is it possible to advance healthcare IT data with human-centered design principles? Conforming elements of a health care sociotechnical system has proven to be a monumental task for the public sector. As technology and healthcare become more and more entwined with our lives, the need to turn to science and technology is paving the way in combining data with patient records using the Health Factors Engineering (‘HFE’) principles.

Engineering Profession on Laptop

Engineering Profession on Laptop

While white papers and press releases are great ways to gather insight on how best to pursue the rapid changes within the public sector and its procurement methodologies, sometimes going straight to the source can be more valuable.

Defining HFE. According to the International Ergonomics Association, ‘Human Factors Engineering’ can be defined as the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the engineering profession that applies theory, principles, data, and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance. That’s a mouthful!

In short, HFE refers to a process in which a health information system is able to adapt and increase awareness through application human factor principles.

This in turn would lead to improving performance and optimizing end-user experience. Safeguarding patient records through a dedicated IT adaptive healthcare system is a colossal sociotechnical challenge and a monumental step forward, but it will require strong and sustained support from a multitude of stakeholders, including vendors, researchers, and policymakers.

A great deal is at stake…

In the absence of any other central oversight, HFE can lead the way in making health IT safer and better, improving data integration with clinical record keeping.

The Building Blocks

While the overall market share for North America will most likely dictate the prediction of HFE implementation, with the public healthcare sector having made significant strides in clinician-facing health IT applications, the need to train, support, and identify key expertise in patient records and risk management, requires the bandwidth and resources to meet expectations. 

Yet, developing a roadmap has proven a complex endeavor… especially when considering the shifts and changes in departmental collaboration and the use of multiple platforms of customer engagement.

Doctor looking at medical records on tablet

Doctor looking at medical records on tablet

For some projects, the re-engineering of clinical workflows or care delivery processes into which the health IT applications must integrate, means providers attempting to digitalize transformations are bound to encounter a number of questions and challenges.

Over the years, as information technology and computers began finding applications in healthcare diagnosis and treatment, it is also emerged as a critical tool to record and retrieve data.

One of the most effective ways that has proven to facilitate this type of compatibility is the principles of HFE and the use of software programs that possess the inherent human-centered designs to support the changes that will be necessary as services progress along their lifecycle.

Several interoperability needs related to HFE have already been proposed, but none have actually been considered to the extent and principles of enterprise-wide implementation.

A list of HFE’s interoperability in human centered design principles are paving way in Electronic Health Records, to name but one example. Data accumulation is easy, but actualization requires foresight, and this is provided by the tenants of HFE. What may appear to be common sensical adaptations of theory have only recently found adoption (e.g., bolding the font of text entry sections, instead of the category headers, draws the reader’s eye to the information which is being sought after). Moreover, strides in introducing HIPPA compliant workflow processes continue to mature, yet still offer opportunity for development and enhancement.  Especially in the realm of healthcare, the balance between excessive and insufficient data is razor thin and too often, represents life or death consequences. Hence the goal of being able to provide optimum information for diagnosis and treatment, without overburdening the cognitive faculties of the provider. HFE is the discipline responsible for the evidence-based pioneering of these ideas and represents a fertile growth industry, into a timeframe well past the near future. 

Definitions and Examples of HFE Capabilities

HFE Database Data Management Table

HFE Database Data Management Table

  • Clinical observation studies. HFE can analyze vast amounts of data with concentrated speed, detect patterns and trends, and maintain records with unmatched accuracy. Imagine easily and quickly being able to match a group of patient types with a clinical trial or automating reporting.

  • Questionnaires and surveys. HFE can collect and disseminate evidence on successful health IT safety interventions. It provides practitioners data on what patients are doing, and for how long. This in turn, leads to improved patient-provider partnerships. The purpose is to understand how the perceptions of physicians who use HFE systems differ or are similar to the perceptions of the patients who recall seeing their physician use the system.

  • Job and work analysis. HFE learning can also increase efficiency by determining the ideal number of participants to recruit and reducing record-keeping errors.

  • Hierarchical task analysis. HFE can devise methods of improving the identification and sharing of information on health IT-related tasks.

  • Cognitive task analyses. HFE can rapidly analyze task and medical data to match appropriate patients to clinical trials.

  • Qualitative and quantitative data collection and analysis.  Thanks to HFE data collection and dissemination of health IT platforms, with the increase in the digitization of health care data, the future may hold the ability to incorporate real-time data throughout the clinical life cycle.

  • User Interface Studies.  In reference to agencies such as the Veterans Affairs (VA), the desire to optimize end user ease, balanced against the awareness that the population of those suffering traumatic and disabling injuries has increased exponentially, HFE offers the chance to avoid Kafkaesque scenarios where individuals who are seeking help are not precluding from doing so by the presenting symptom itself.  Instead of: “One-option-fits-all” interface methods of typing, for example, HFE suggests that multiple strategies can be introduced on a modular basis in anticipation of facilitating access to all individuals.

Projecting the Path Forward

This is but an introduction of the emerging use cases of HFE principles.

As it stands, HFE is poised to offset rising costs in managing test user interfaces to ensure user effectiveness, minimize mental workload, support decision making, maximize clinical workflow efficiency, reduce human error, improve patient safety, and enhance quality of care.

But what does that all mean?

The path to new and innovative data analytics and metric recording is growing and flourishing.

With electronic health records having grown in recent years as the U.S. government’s incentive plans and the benefits of these systems are realized, HFE identifies the criticality of crafting services and systems which are accessible to end-user physicians, scientists and the patients themselves. Of particular value is the concept of tailoring patient services to populations who may – owing to their reason for treatment – require different access tools, such as touch or verbal command, or output devices that reduce the need for visual awareness, substituting auditory or tactile based interaction fields. 

Adapting HFE can be boiled down to a specific process with the sole aim of achieving high accuracy. In short, optimization of accurate data inputs without the hassle of micromanaging.

Whether it’s assisting the vendors and providers alike, or improving clinical trial candidate matches, HFE is projecting the path forward and, at some levels, already in practice today.