Human factors in surgery: from Three Mile Island to the operating room

Pierfrancesco Bassi, Alessandro D'Addessi, Luca Bongiovanni, Francesco Pinto, Andrea Volpe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Citations (Scopus)


Human factors is a definition that includes the science of understanding the properties of human capability, the application of this understanding to the design and development of systems and services, the art of ensuring their successful applications to a program. The field of human factors traces its origins to the Second World War, but Three Mile Island has been the best example of how groups of people react and make decisions under stress: this nuclear accident was exacerbated by wrong decisions made because the operators were overwhelmed with irrelevant, misleading or incorrect information. Errors and their nature are the same in all human activities. The predisposition for error is so intrinsic to human nature that scientifically it is best considered as inherently biologic. The causes of error in medical care may not be easily generalized. Surgery differs in important ways: most errors occur in the operating room and are technical in nature. Commonly, surgical error has been thought of as the consequence of lack of skill or ability, and is the result of thoughtless actions. Moreover the 'operating theatre' has a unique set of team dynamics: professionals from multiple disciplines are required to work in a closely coordinated fashion. This complex environment provides multiple opportunities for unclear communication, clashing motivations, errors arising not from technical incompetence but from poor interpersonal skills. Surgeons have to work closely with human factors specialists in future studies. By improving processes already in place in many operating rooms, safety will be enhanced and quality increased.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-257
Number of pages9
JournalUrologia Internationalis
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • Risk management
  • human factors
  • surgery


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