Human Factors methodologies informed workflow redesigns can be an integral part of COVID-19 pandemic preparations in healthcare settings by identifying key areas where ergonomics can effectively contribute to response for pandemic control, such as:

  • Just-in-time (JIT) training development
  • adapting workflows
  • adapting processes
  • restructuring teams and tasks
  • developing effective mechanisms
  • installing communication tools and effectively using the platform to educate citizens on safe practices


How HFE Benefits Workplace Systems

HFE is a discipline that examines the design of individual work system components and the interactions with each team member, all the while taking into account human capabilities and characteristics. The goal with ergonomics and human factors is to achieve optimum human safety and performance.1 HFE experts are formally trained to design, adapt, and reconfigure work systems to maximize performance under high-risk, high-stakes environments. At the same time, these practices minimize the introduction of new safety risks into the work system.2 Specialists use various conceptual approaches and methods to identify barriers and enablers to have consistent compliance across verticals with guidelines and protocols.

HFE a Critical Building Block in Engaging Patients

A recent study by the Journal of Patient Safety and Risk Management found Human Factors a critical building block in engaging patients and families to follow recommended practices such as social distancing and revised hospital visitation policies.

Ergonomics and Human Factors Approach in Mitigating Barriers to Healthcare Plans

HFE approaches are instrumental in identifying and mitigating barriers to implementation of plans, learning from failures and successes, and applying these learning processes to improve the current and future pandemic responses. Integrating HFE approaches and tools across health care systems, state health organizations, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would address the significant loopholes and gaps currently plaguing our healthcare structure.

Human Factors Challenges to Addressing COVID-19 Pandemic

One significant challenge to addressing the COVID-19 pandemic is our American health care system that is not adequately designed to support human performance for a large-scale health crisis. Human factors and ergonomics have proved over and over again how to design, adapt, and reconfigure health care work systems; however, these elements have yet to be put in place. Even though individuals are working as part of a team in complex, socio-technical work systems, such as staff working in emergency, there has been little or no consideration for the complexities of human cognition and behavior in pandemic preparation and response.

HFE factors inserted into this process will significantly raise response time and reduce the amount of confusion and lack of preparedness in this and our next pandemic.

How Human Factors and Ergonomics Can Contribute to the COVID-19 Pandemic Response

According to a recent study in the Journal of Patient Safety and Risk Management, to have consistent compliance with guidelines and protocols, a patient under investigation for COVID-19 in a pediatric ambulatory care clinic should include these initial steps:

  • Screening
  • Registration
  • isolation protocols

Based on an in-depth, multi-method investigation, HFE specialists can inform the development of appropriate solutions to support individual and team performance in epidemic and pandemic situations.

PPE donning and doffing is critical and complex. This process requires unwavering attention under trying conditions and guidelines. Any slip or lapse can lead to contamination and infection with the deadly virus pandemic. To disseminate robust guidance to thousands of health care workers responding to the previous Ebola epidemic, the CDC convened 40 healthcare responders with expertise in infection prevention, medicine, nursing, instructional design, videography, and HFE to develop a web-based training program for how to don and doff PPE safely.

How fast can HFE be implemented in a pandemic situation?

A few highly practical solutions can be developed quickly with minimal resources. One example is developing proper signage and checklists to support distributed or team cognitive work. A solution such as this can be implemented within hours or days with input from one or two HFE specialists.

Other healthcare solutions may take longer and require a larger group of experts. For example, the HFE-informed web-based training development for donning and doffing personal protective equipment during the Ebola epidemic took ten days and required an interdisciplinary team of 40 experts. 3



  1. Gurses AP, Ozok AA and Pronovost PJ. Time to accelerate integration of human factors and ergonomics in patient safety. BMJ Quality & Safety 2011; 21: 347–351.
  2. Harrison MI, Koppel R and Bar-Lev S. Unintended con- sequences of information technologies in health care – an interactive sociotechnical analysis. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association 2007; 14: 542–549.
  3. Gurses AP, Rosen MA and Pronovost PJ. Improving guideline compliance and healthcare safety using human factors engineering: the case of Ebola. Journal of Patient Safety Risk Management 2018; 23(3): 93–95.

Our Consulting Team includes Ergonomics/Human Factors and Healthcare Safety specialists. Connect with us to learn more! [email protected].

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