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Office Ergonomics

Aug 26, 2016 11:50AM ● By MED Magazine

By Jeff Roach 

 Office ergonomics is important in healthcare not only for providers using computers in the hospital or clinic, but also for addressing their patients’ work related injuries. In addition, healthcare managers should consider employee comfort and productivity when designing a variety of work areas or departments. The ergonomics issues shown below are some of the most common. Suggestions for dealing with each issue are included.      

 For Those that Treat Patients

 Exam room ergonomics

There are risks for the computer user and also the potential for a negative effect on the provider-patient relationship. Most of the older examination rooms are not designed for computer use. Also, the typical lack of space results in awkward posture including neck rotation, working above elbow height, and excessive reaching for the keyboard. If the patient has to wait for a provider, gets limited time, and the provider uses the computer with limited eye contact, it increases the likelihood of the patient not feeling a connection. This can lead to a lack of trust. An ergonomics evaluation can be helpful to redesign the area to improve both the provider-computer interface, as well as the provider-patient experience. 

 Laptop vs. desktop computer

Frequent to continuous use of a laptop computer can cause pain as a result of spending too much time in awkward posture, specifically neck flexion, protracted shoulders, and wrist ulnar deviation. When not mobile, computer users should dock the laptop in the office and use external devices (keyboard, mouse, and monitor).

 Splints recommended for computer users

It is very difficult to operate a standard mouse when wearing a thumb spica splint, for example. It is very cumbersome so people tend to be noncompliant with physician recommendations to use the splint at work.  When trying to immobilize the thumb joints, consider left hand mouse use or an ergonomic mouse. Better yet, recommending an ergonomics evaluation with specific instructions to reduce the use of the involved thumb would be beneficial. 

 For Those that Manage Healthcare Staff

 Shared workstations

It’s important to consider all employees when making recommendations for shared workstations. High levels of adjustability are ideal for both chairs and workstation heights.  Employees are encouraged to take the time when they start work to make adjustments to the chair, keyboard and mouse height, and the monitor position. It is common for employees to not want to make adjustments at a shared workstation. However, if an employee is going to be at a workstation for a significant period of time, adjustments should be made.

Height adjustability

Height adjustability should be seriously considered when employees do not change positions or move frequently. Also, standing can be more appropriate when performing tasks such as sorting documents or assembling manuals.

Task specific workstations

Accounting, transcription, and reception workstations shouldn’t all look the same because the tasks performed can vary quite a bit. Accountants typically need space for reading and writing on documents, as well as keyboard and 10 key use. Transcriptionists mainly focus on keyboarding and use the mouse to a lesser degree. Reception workstations should combine the need for optimal computer ergonomics and effective patient interaction.  Counter heights in reception areas can cause ergonomic issues due to prolonged sitting in tall chairs without adequate foot support. Ergonomics evaluations can help to ensure that the workstations are designed to be task specific.

 Ergonomic task chairs

Those that sit for prolonged periods should have a supportive, comfortable chair. A standard ergonomic task chair should be highly adjustable to fit average body types. Ergonomic task chairs should be adjustable for seat height, seat depth, backrest or lumbar support height, and backrest tension. Armrests are considered optional, but should be highly adjustable if present.  

 Jeff Roach is an occupational therapist and a member of the South Dakota Occupational Therapy Association. He is an Ergonomics and Loss Control Specialist with RAS.