Reducing Human Error in Healthcare

Getting Doctors to Swallow the Blue Pill

Dr. Paul O'Connor (Institute for Business, Social Sciences and Public Policy, NUI Galway)

Siobhan McKenna Theatre, Arts Millennium Building, NUI Galway 13:00 :: 18th January 2012

Medical error affects approximately 10% of hospitalized patients. Within an Irish context, that equates to approximately 160,000 patients injured every year. These injuries are due to the failure of healthcare professionals to address the 'blue threat' to the patient. The blue threat does not arise from the medical condition, but from human factors such as breakdowns in teamwork, leadership, communication, lack of situation awareness, and poor decision making. This presentation will describe the multi-disciplinary research that is being carried out at NUI Galway in both surgery and the training of doctor interns with the aim of reducing the blue threat to patients from the people who are supposed to be caring for them.

Paul O’Connor joined the Centre for Innovation and Structural Change as a Research Methodologist in July 2010. He received his B.Sc. (Hons) in Psychology from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland in 1996, M.Sc. in Research Methods in Psychology from the University of Strathclyde, Scotland in 1997, and Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Aberdeen in 2002. His research was concerned with identifying human factors that cause accidents and with designing, implementing and evaluating human factors training in high reliability industries such as aviation, nuclear and oil industries.

After completing his PhD he joined the U.S. Navy after responding to an advertisement for a Navy Research Psychologist on the internet. His first assignment was to the Navy Experimental Diving Unit (NEDU). Whilst stationed at NEDU, he worked on projects concerned with improving the human factors performance of special operations personnel. He also completed Navy diver training and participated in a number of unpleasant research projects as an experimental diver. His next assignment was to train as an aeromedical specialist. As part of this training he completed an abbreviated version of the naval aviation primary flight training programme.

In August 2005, he became an Instructor in aviation psychology and human factors at the Navy/Marine Corps School of Aviation Safety. His research was focused upon improving the performance of aviators, and reliably capturing the human factors causes of accidents. This area of research continued during his next assignment as an Assistant Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School Monterey, California. He was responsible for teaching courses on the Human Systems Integration Masters’ program, supervising students, and served as the Deputy Director of the Modeling, Virtual Environments and Simulation (MOVES) Institute, and as the Chairman of the Institutional Review Board.

He has authored more than 50 publications, including two books (Safety at the Sharp End, and Human Performance Enhancements in High-risk Environments) He is a member of the editorial board of the International Journal of Aviation Psychology and an occasional reviewer for a number of other human factors and safety journals.

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