RSNA: Keep reading room ergonomics in mind, says Siegel

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CHICAGO—It turns out that including a treadmill workstation in a reading room is a bad idea. Eliot L. Siegel, MD, shared that tip and others for creating a more comfortable work environment for radiologists during a Nov. 26 presentation at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

Siegel, of the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, shared with session participants the trial and error process involved in the design of his facility’s Radiology Reading Room of the Future project, which focused on perfecting ergonomics. Lighting, noise control and room design all play an important role and can cause problems if misaligned, he said.

For example, if the brightness of a monitor doesn’t match the ambient light in a room, it can decrease reader accuracy, increase fatigue and lengthen interpretation time, said Siegel. Distance from the monitor also matters, as the resting point of vergence—or where a person’s eyes naturally look in total darkness—is about 45 inches away when looking straight ahead, and closer when looking at a downward angle. “But how many of you are 4 feet away or 3 feet away from your monitors?” asked Siegel, who suggested moving monitors at least 25 inches away.

Even when placed correctly, looking at computer monitors for extended periods of time causes strain. Studies of video display terminal operators found that viewing monitors for more than four hours resulted in increasing near-sightedness throughout the day. Siegel said the human eye blinks about 22 times per minute in a resting state, but only seven times per minute when looking at a computer monitor, resulting in eyestrain and dry, itchy eyes. This can be partially combatted by following the 20/20/20 rule—every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

Room temperature can affect productivity, and Siegel said his team was intrigued by personal temperature controls at workstations. While people are most comfortable at a temperature of 78 degrees F, productivity actually increases when temperatures are a few degrees cooler.

Perhaps the best money the team spent, according to Siegel, was the installation of a sound masking system that emitted a hum at the frequency of the human voice to minimize distracting noises. It also resulted in a slight increase in speech recognition accuracy.

When organizing the room space, Siegel said his team wanted workstations that offered privacy when appropriate, but access to others when needed, and kept the user from having to reach too far for what they needed. “What we really strongly recommend is having all of the systems that you use--whether it’s phone or speech recognition or the monitors—all within short reach of where you’re sitting and have as many functions as possible integrated into a single workstation.”

To help encourage activity while working, the team tried installing a treadmill at a workstation, but this was short-lived. “What we were finding is that radiologists who didn’t want to walk on the treadmill, when that was the only room that was available, were putting chairs on the treadmill,” said Siegel. “They started falling off the side of the treadmill. When that started happening, we decided that was a brilliant trust experiment, but we should take that out.”

Siegel warned that when investigating reading room improvements to beware of products labeled “ergonomic” that might not be, as there’s no governing body monitoring this designation. It may take extra research, but it shouldn’t deter a practice from trying to improve.

“When you go back to your environment…look at it afresh,” recommended Siegel. “Just have a critical eye. There are many really cool things you can do.”