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08:43 AM

Human Factors in Health Care: Improving Patient Experience with Technology

CM App

Children’s Mercy recently launched a new mobile app that helps families and visitors navigate their way around the Adele Hall Campus. Trying to find your way around the halls of the hospital or locate one of the more than 40 pediatric specialty outpatient clinics can be overwhelming when you’re already anxious about caring for a sick child. The app, which was requested by both families and employees, is designed to remove that extra layer of stress and help improve the patient and visitor experience. Sarah Fouquet, PhD, Human Factors Research Scientist, Medical Informatics & Telemedicine at Children's Mercy, helped spearhead the design of the app and shares insight on how Human Factors plays a role in health care and the patient experience.

More than three-quarters of American adults own a smartphone and there are more than 2.8 million apps users can download. The choices are endless. So what makes an app successful? The answer is simple. It’s one that is quick, effective, well-designed, user friendly and satisfies the end user’s needs.

We all have apps on our phone that provide functionality in some form, but everyone has a favorite app (or two) they can’t live without. Why is this? It boils down to Human Factors.

What is Human Factors?

Human Factors is the scientific discipline of studying and understanding human behavior and performance. Human factors relies on a systems approach, focusing on all of the elements that influence our performance (e.g. tools, technology, culture, and policies). We then take this information and apply theory, principles and data to ensure whatever it is people are interacting with, they do it well and without error. It’s about optimizing well-being in all facets of life.

As a Human Factors scientist, our job is to build the bridge between Psychology and Engineering to help improve how humans interact with technology and the world around them. It’s understanding how humans operate, such as understanding the limitations of the working memory, what motivates you, your feelings and the cognitive neuroscience behind the reward mechanism.

Think of it this way. At some point in our lives, we’ve struggled with an instruction manual, were confused over the directions for a new board game or couldn’t figure out how to use an app. It’s not necessarily our fault, but the poor design of the product.

WWII Origin of Human Factors Science

The origin of human factors science dates back to World War II, as new tools and technology began to outpace humans’ ability to adapt. Airplane pilots were among the brightest war-time recruits, but many were making critical errors. A psychologist studying these errors realized that identical knobs to engage the landing gear and the wing flaps were being confused by pilots when landing, which is one of the most cognitively demanding aspects of flying an aircraft.

What began as a “pilot error” was quickly realized as a “cockpit design error.” So the shape of the landing-gear knob was redesigned to look and feel like a rubber tire, giving the humans flying the plane a tactile cue to choose the right action, and to be able to do so without even looking. So instead of designing the pilot to fit the machine, the machines were designed to fit the pilot.

Improving User Experience in Health Care

The study of Human Factors has since evolved and expanded to other industries, which includes health care and the use of technology to improve patient care. Using Human Factors, we can expand beyond the concept of patient satisfaction and learn how to improve the experience before patients even step foot in the hospital.

It was important to get feedback from the end-users from the very beginning when designing the new wayfinder app for the hospital. Early on, we asked visitors to use the app to find the surgery clinic. At that time, they had to follow a moving blue dot on their phone. We quickly learned that was nearly an impossible task, especially for parents that had multiple kids and pushing strollers or pulling wagons through the halls. It was unrealistic to expect someone to look down at their phone the entire time. By seeing this firsthand, we added turn-by-turn directions. This not only improved the app, but the user experience.

Human Factors” and Parenting

Human Factors can be used in all facets of life, even when it comes to parenting. My favorite quote is “You want to change behavior, don’t target behavior, and target the conditions under which it takes place.” This advice is applicable to all aspects of life whether at work, at home or raising kids.

For example, every morning I found myself frustrated because the kids weren’t ready when it was time to leave for school. I repeatedly said “why don’t you have your coat and shoes on!” That’s when I had to step back and look at other factors. What time did they go to bed? What time did they wake up? Do they need more time to get ready in the morning? Do they struggle picking out clothes in the morning? Once you determine what works and doesn’t work for the child, use this information to set them up for success. To achieve sustainable impact, “conditions” not “behaviors” need to be addressed. Now we pick out clothes the night before, which decreases conflict and frustration in the morning. But one size doesn’t fit all. Human Factors is about variation, so what works for one kid may not work for the other, and that’s OK.

The Goal of Human Factors

The goal of Human Factors is to increase performance, increase satisfaction and encourage well-being. So, if we can understand the systems we operate in, whether it’s our job, family or technology, then those systems support us as opposed to the other way around.


Learn more about Children's Mercy app and it's many features, which includes how to save your spot at one of our urgent care clinics, plan for an upcoming appointment and get turn-by-turn directions to navigate the Children's Mercy Adele Hall Campus in downtown Kansas City.