In 2002 the UK Department of Health and the Design Council jointly commissioned a scoping study to deliver ideas and practical recommendations for a design approach to reduce the risk of medical error and improve patient safety across the National Health Service (NHS). The research was undertaken by the Engineering Design Centre at the University of Cambridge, the Robens Institute for Health Ergonomics at the University of Surrey and the Helen Hamlyn Research Centre at the Royal College of Art.
The research team employed diverse methods to gather evidence from literature, key stakeholders, and experts from within healthcare and other safety-critical industries in order to ascertain how the design of systems—equipment and other physical artefacts, working practices and information—could contribute to patient safety. Despite the multiplicity of activities and methodologies employed, what emerged from the research was a very consistent picture. This convergence pointed to the need to better understand the healthcare system, including the users of that system, as the context into which specific design solutions must be delivered. Without that broader understanding there can be no certainty that any single design will contribute to reducing medical error and the consequential cost thereof.