Ergonomic Workstations: What Works & What Doesnt

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Robbert M. Maes, MD, of the department of radiology at the Gemini Hospital in Den Helder, Netherlands, demonstrates a half sitting/half standing working position. Source: Abel Bolhuis

While perfecting the ergonomics of the radiology reading room has long been a topic of research and debate—and a continuing work in progress—versatility and flexibility are the key components to ensuring comfort and thus better productivity for radiologists with different wants and needs.

One size does not fit all

The most prevalent issue regarding the radiologist work environment is the overwhelming, but untrue, philosophy that “one size fits all,” says Elizabeth Krupinski, PhD, of the department of radiology at the University Of Arizona School of Medicine in Tucson.

“When you think about everyone in his or her own little cubicle or office, everybody likes and sets the environment to their own personal preferences and needs,” she explains. “Some people will turn off lights when they are working on the computer, or some people will leave them on. A lot of this has to do with their physiological and cognitive systems, and how they interact with their own environment. To a large extent in radiology, that is ignored.”

Robbert M. Maes, MD, of the department of radiology at the Gemini Hospital in Den Helder, Netherlands, agrees with Krupinski’s perception. 

“Most workstations still only allow one position, and do not offer multiple choices for the radiologist,” says Maes. “A continuous position is the most strenuous for the musculoskeletal system, possibly leading to back problems and overextension of the wrist.”

“I’ve done studies that have shown that from looking at a monitor all day, radiologists are fatigued and that can affect diagnostic accuracy.” Krupinski adds there are numerous reports of radiologists developing carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as shoulder and neck injuries.     

The solution lies in flexibility and adjustability of tables and chairs, Maes says. “Using a working table that can be moved into different heights, allowing dictating in sitting, half standing and standing positions, as well as a chair which allows different positions, amongst which support a half standing position is possible. The use of a headset and foot pedal diminishes the use of the hand and fingers using the microphones.”

Customizable workstations: A future notion

Many radiology departments have recognized the need for adjustable workstations that adapt to many users—and swapping out static furniture for fully movable workstations. They also are installing adjustable overhead and desktop lighting and recommending that radiologists step away from monitors for a few minutes several times a day to avoid physical and cognitive strains. The little things really count, Krupinski says. 

With the proper equipment, Maes notes, radiologists can further avoid potential professional hazards, including eye fatigue, repetitive strain injury and overexertion of parts of the musculoskeletal system.

For example, to prevent wrist fatigue while scrolling with a mouse, he suggests placing the mouse (intermittently) in a low position (on a side-table or one’s own leg) on a slope with a downward angle away from one’s body.

Additionally, Maes notes that radiologists spend a greater percentage of their time sitting now than they did in the past when standing at a lightbox was more the norm. With that in mind, colleagues have proposed using a walking treadmill in front of the desk to prevent obesity or thrombosis of the legs, he says. 

Radiology departments also should note that the engineering, as well as the purchasing of future workstations, should enlist the input of as many viewing physicians as possible, says Krupinski.

“This is really important, as they are the ones who are going to use [the workstation],” she says.  “I really think that sitting down, getting beyond the basics and developing something that is individually customized is really where the future is going to be.”