On 22 August 2016, some 300 members of the public gathered at SIM University's (UniSIM) Performing Arts Theatre for a symposium on Human Factors in Healthcare, organised by UniSIM's School of Science and Technology. This symposium, which brought together healthcare workers and human factors practitioners, was a satellite event to the August 24 – 25 Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Conference organised by the Ministry of Manpower, WSH Council and WSH Institute.
In recent years, several cases of medical errors in the healthcare system have received front page coverage in the media, but many more of such incidents may have occurred, even in Singapore. Hospitals all over the country have set up Quality Assurance departments, and assembled innovation and process improvement groups to improve on the quality of services and to deal with issues related to patients' safety. It is not surprising then that UniSIM's symposium, which discussed the relevance and application of human factors in healthcare, had attracted a lot of interest from representatives from almost all the major public and private healthcare groups, including Singapore Health Services, National Healthcare Group, Jurong Health Services, Eastern Health Alliance, Ren Ci Hospital and Parkway Group Healthcare.
Professor Cheong Hee Kiat, President of UniSIM, presented the welcome address and advocated that the application of human factors in healthcare does not require an extravagant budget or fancy equipment, but it does require a change of mindset – a move from focusing on technology, processes, or bottom lines, to improving patients' experience and safety of healthcare workers.
Six speakers, including medical professionals-turned-human factors advocates, presented at the symposium. Professor Yoel Donchin, Clinical Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, shared how he turned to human factors to fight against medical errors, having witnessed too many cases of medical mishaps while working as a senior physician in the intensive care unit. Dr Lim Tiek Whai, an anesthesiologist from Changi General Hospital (CGH), spoke about his pioneering work of educating the healthcare sector on the importance of human factors, which resulted in the hospital hiring its first human factors professional, Dr Yin Shanqing, an associate faculty teaching in UniSIM's Bachelor of Science in Human Factors in Safety programme.
Dr Valerie Gawron and Mr Greg Nelson, both from MITRE Corporation – a non-profit organisation that operates research and development centres sponsored by the United States and foreign governments – also accepted the invitation to speak at the symposium. Dr Gawron, a human factors veteran who had visited every single country in the world and had worked on human factors projects for more than 30 years, spoke on human factors guidelines in developing wellness programmes in the healthcare industry, while Mr Nelson talked about harnessing big data for patient safety.
Dr Lee Lay Tin, Senior Consultant in Occupational Medicine and Head of the Occupational Health Services at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, was nominated by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) to speak on the hazards that healthcare workers face at their workplaces and how to mitigate them. She was previously Senior Specialist in the Occupational Safety and Health Specialist Department in the MOM, which is responsible for the promulgation of Workplace Safety and Health policies and programmes on a national scale.
Associate Professor Chui Yoon Ping, Head of UniSIM's Human Factors in Safety programme and the organiser of the symposium, was especially proud to have one of her graduates, Mr Johnathan Siew, speak at the event. Mr Siew, Improvement Science Executive at CGH, shared his practical experiences as a human factors practitioner in a restructured hospital in Singapore. He reflected: "It was very heartening to share with such a huge turnout, my journey practising Human Factors in a hospital, and thereby strengthening the growing interest in applying human factors capabilities in the challenging healthcare industry. Being a first-time speaker, it was especially meaningful to be able to do so at UniSIM, where I had graduated from the programme that equipped me with the foundation of these human factors knowledge. Hopefully, through the symposium, there will be a better appreciation of the importance of having human factors practitioners in various industries, especially in healthcare."
Associate Professor Chui facilitated the panel discussion that saw many challenging questions raised, including how to decrease the number of working hours of healthcare workers to reduce fatigue that could lead to errors, given the current climate of manpower crunch. She hopes that the symposium had helped to start the dialogue on how human factors could serve to improve the safety of both patients and healthcare workers, and that the discussion continues long after the symposium has ended.
Mr Johnathan Siew, a graduate from UniSIM's Human Factors in Safety programme,
sharing his experience as a human factors practitioner in a hospital.
Associate Professor Chui Yoon Ping (centre) facilitating the panel discussion, featuring (from left) Professor Yoel Donchin,
Dr Lim Tiek Whai, Mr Johnathan Siew, Dr Valerie Gawron, Dr Lee Lay Tin and Mr Greg Nelson.