JACR: RTs suffer repetitive stress differently from rads

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Seventy percent of radiology technologists (RTs) reported work-related repetitive stress symptoms, while nearly half had been previously diagnosed with the syndrome, according to a study performed at a large academic institution and published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Increasing attention has been paid to the prevalence of repetitive stress and other injuries related to workplace design among radiologists, while the perceived impact of the digital environment on technologists is unknown, according to Daniel S. Siegal, MD, radiologist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, and colleagues. Yet, RTs "have traditionally performed a variety of physical tasks related to imaging equipment and patient transfer that place them at increased risk for musculoskeletal complaints and injuries."

The authors therefore sought to determine the occurrence of repetitive stress symptoms among RTs working in a fully digital department, which studies indicate is associated with a high rate of repetitive stress symptoms among radiologists. Moreover, Siegal and colleagues examined the perceived effects of previously instituted ergonomic interventions, including two lectures on workplace ergonomics as well as a large number of ergonomic workspaces. A 10-question survey designed by occupation health specialists was administered to all 225 of the department's RTs, eliciting a response rate of 46 percent.

Seventy percent of RTs reported symptoms of repetitive stress syndrome and 42 percent of respondents indicated that they had previously received diagnoses of repetitive stress syndrome. The most commonly cited contributors to symptoms among RTs were: patient transfer, 33 percent; ultrasound probes, 23 percent; work with heavy imaging equipment, 20 percent; nonergonomic chairs, 19 percent and lead aprons, 10 percent.

The authors expressed surprise, given the findings of ergonomic studies on radiologists, that computer-related tasks were not included among the top three factors in reproducing repetitive stress symptoms, saying that these results "suggest that ergonomic interventions in radiology departments should be tailored differently for radiologists and RTs."

Technologists' subjective responsiveness to ergonomic interventions also proved poor. Of the 31 respondents who had received new ergonomic chairs, 20 reported little or no improvement in symptoms. Similarly, 11 out of 18 RTs using new ergonomic tables reported little or no improvement.

The authors suggested that the abnormally low success rate of ergonomic interventions reported in their department may have been the result of a low predominance of computer work relative to previous studies, with 64 percent of respondents indicating that they spent less than six hours each day working at a PACS or computer workstation, although 18 percent of respondents reported working more than 8 hours per day at computers.

Finally, half of the 14 free responses submitted addressed the awkwardness and difficulty of performing repetitive ultrasound exams.

The authors discussed several limitations of their study, including the absence of data identifying specific repetitive stress injuries and the potential for response bias, as RTs with symptoms may have felt more compelled to voice their opinions. Further, because the study was anonymous, the authors were unable to make any conclusions regarding the roles of gender, age or RT modality.

"Our survey of technologists working at a large academic medical center found that a majority of respondents have experienced repetitive stress symptoms and that nearly half have either previously confirmed or suspected repetitive stress injuries," the authors concluded. "Importantly, we also found that traditional aspects of technologists' daily work tasks such as patient transfer and the use of imaging equipment are perceived to contribute more to their symptoms than computer-related activities, which are a major factor for radiologists."