RSNA: Redesigning the reading room

CHICAGO—The importance of reading room ergonomics should be recognized in order to better the health of radiologists and improve accuracy and productivity, according to a presentation on Dec. 1 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of radiologists in the imaging ‘chain,’” said Eliot Siegel, MD, of the University of Maryland in Baltimore. However, repetitive motion disorders such as eye strain or neck pain, are beginning to hinder the performance of radiologists in the reading room. Siegel thus argued that changes in the reading room need to be implemented to protect both radiologists and patients.

Siegel began the “Rad Reading Room Project” at his institution to create five ergonomically optimized, productive, and low-stress radiology workstations. Using the Charette process, which involves architects, acoustic experts, and radiologists, Siegel and colleagues conceived of partitioned yet collaborative spaces with unique ergonomic designs.

The most important factor, Siegel said, was lighting. “If you don’t have a match between the brightness of your monitor and your room lighting, you can have an increase in reading time, decrease in accuracy, and an increase in fatigue,” he remarked.

Dimmable controls and local task lighting could combat this imbalance. Blue backgrounds have also been proved to reflect light and have a positive effect on visual acuity.  

Additionally, ventilation and heat should be individually controlled in the reading room, with an optimum industrial work temperature falling between 63°F and 75°F. Colder temperatures have been shown to increase productivity, with heat tending to negatively affect men more than women.

Another significant area in the reading room is acoustics. Siegel’s research found that the biggest distraction for radiologists is face-to-face conversations. Solutions for noise distractions include using sound absorbing material, acoustic paneling, carpeting, sound masking systems, and music or white noise. Sound masking systems are crucial, Siegel said, as they provide “noise” in the general frequency range of the human voice.

Workstations that permit radiologists to stand up could be beneficial for productivity and comfort. Finding a good chair is key, said Siegel, and chairs should be tried out for a couple of weeks before making a final decision.

Radiologists should sit as far away from the monitor as possible to save visual acuity, and they should look down at the center of the monitor. Adjustable keyboards are also important for comfort and health.

Lastly, personalized touches such as scented candles or family photographs could make the work environment less stressful and more calming, Siegel advised.

Future innovations hold a lot of promise for the improvement of reading room ergonomics, including touch display, Google Glass, or workstations with exercise features for radiologists.

“Reading room redesign is a wise investment,” concluded Siegel. “It pays for itself with at least a one percent increase in productivity in less than a year.”