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    May 01, 2013

    Ergonomics is an Investment in Yourself—and Your Patients

    In medical school we are introduced to the Physician’s Oath—“The health of my patients will be my number one consideration.” Our own health, however, becomes secondary as late-night studying turns into a routine of work, sleep deprivation and stress during advanced medical training.

    Many of us work in environments that are uncomfortable at best, unsafe at worst, while ignoring warning signs of problems that can damage our bodies and minds. Radiology trainees learn little about the science of ergonomics that is so critical to ensuring comfort and safety while maximizing productivity.

    At the Baltimore Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, creating our “Radiology Reading Room of the Future” provided insights into improving ergonomics:

    • Lighting should be incandescent and indirect. Ambient lighting should approximate monitor brightness. Project a blue background light behind the workstation to reduce perceived stress.
    • Monitor brightness is as important as resolution. DICOM grayscale calibration can decrease the need to perform window/leveling.
    • Sound can be critical to improving concentration and decreasing stress. A sound-masking system is a “best buy” investment.
    • Workstations should accommodate sitting or standing while dictating. Try out a new chair for at least a week, with varying combinations of armrest, height, tilt and other parameters.
    • Interfaces such as the mouse are increasingly associated with repetitive stress injuries. Touchscreen and voice recognition may ultimately resolve this; for now, consider alternative handheld solutions.
    • Environmental controls such as custom ventilation and heating can improve comfort and productivity.
    • Personalize your workspace. In addition, stay well hydrated and undergo annual vision examinations for near, medium and distance viewing.
    • Innovate and be creative. We have experimented with a viewing station on a treadmill, a reclining “dental” chair and angled monitor and other futuristic high-tech solutions.
    • Smile: Find something to laugh or at least smile about every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
    • Think Green: Consider turning your monitors and workstations off at the end of the day. It can save a considerable amount of energy and money.

    Investing time, money and effort to improve your work environment will pay for itself. These changes are not merely for the comfort of the radiologist—per the Physician’s Oath, they are investments for our patients.

    Eliot Siegel, M.D.
    Eliot Siegel, M.D., is professor and vice-chair of Information Systems, Department of Radiology and Nuclear Medicine, the University of Maryland, and chief of imaging at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Maryland Healthcare System, both in Baltimore.
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