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The Human Factor: Designing Safety Into Oncology Practice

Author: Rachel E. Gilbert

Journal of Oncology Practice. 2016 Jun 21:JOPR013045

Summary is adapted from original text.

Human factors is a discipline that incorporates principles of psychology and engineering to optimize interactions between people and the complex systems in which they live and work. Human factors aims to reduce the occurrence and impact of human error through an acceptance of humans’ physical, cognitive, and social capabilities and limitations.

Human factors concepts are relatively new to health care and have gained significant momentum only in the past decade. In July 2006, a 43-year-old woman with advanced nasopharangeal carcinoma was given a fatal 24-fold overinfusion of fluorouracil (5-FU). This Canadian sentinel event illustrates the role this discipline can play in oncology practice.

Human factors engineering provides several opportunities to improve system safety. If you are interested in applying human factors to oncology system safety,

  • Learn more about human factors.
  • Engage with human factors professionals and students on a system improvement project. Health care–focused professional consultants exist, and human factors laboratories can be found in university ergonomics, psychology, computer science, and industrial engineering departments.
  • Go into clinical areas and observe actual (not expected) practices. Look for opportunities where errors could occur. You may notice significant error possibilities that no one else has seen, even if such possibilities have been there all along.
  • Advocate for and implement error prevention strategies that address the design of the system rather than policies, training, or staff vigilance.

Oncologist in the Hot Seat

Have a burning question related to work-life balance, leadership, mentorship, or career development?

Since 2013, we have been featuring esteemed Canadian oncologists. The first oncologist that we featured practices in British Columbia. Since then we have been working our way across Canada, featuring oncologists from each province across the country. Our next stop is the province of Québec. From Québec, we are very pleased to introduce Dr. Julie Lemieaux.

Send your great questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to have them answered by our esteemed Oncologist in the Hot Seat.

Dr. Julie Lemieux is a hematologist and Medical Oncologist at the CHU de Québec. She is a member of the Centre des maladies du sein Deschênes-Fabia. She is a clinician-researcher at the Research centre of the CHU de Québec. She obtained her MD at Université Laval and completed a Fellowship in breast cancer at Mount Sinai Hospital and obtained a Master in clinical epidemiology at the University of Toronto. She works at the CHU de Québec since 2006.

Dr Lemieux is a member of quality of life and breast cancer committees of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. She is also a member of the scientific committee of the McPeak-Sirois consortium.

As a medical oncologist, she treats patients with breast, lung and head and neck cancers. Her research activities are related to breast cancer, clinical trial participations and quality of life.

Docteure Julie Lemieux est hémato-oncologue au CHU de Québec et membre du Centre des maladies du sein Deschênes-Fabia. Elle est chercheure-clinicienne dans l’axe oncologie du centre de recherche du CHU de Québec. Elle a obtenu son doctorat en médecine à l’Université Laval et a complété ses études postdoctorales (fellowship) en cancer du sein au centre hospitalier Mont Sinai où elle a obtenu également une maîtrise en épidémiologie clinique à l’Université de Toronto. Elle travaille au CHU de Québec depuis 2006.

Dr Lemieux est membre du comité de qualité de vie et du cancer du sein au Groupe canadien des essais sur le cancer. Elle est aussi membre du comité scientifique du consortium McPeak-Sirois.

En tant qu’hémato-oncologue, elle traite les cancers du sein, du poumon et ORL. Ses activités de recherche sont en lien avec le cancer du sein, la participation aux essais cliniques ou la qualité de vie.

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