As many hospitals and clinics across the US implement Electronic Medical Records (EMR) to help improve efficiency, along with reduce medical errors and overall cost, computer-related injuries may soon start to increase among nurses and physicians.
While many medical centers are spending top dollar on EMR systems, there may be a lack of resources to help improve poor office layouts and improper use of computer devices. This could be the contributing factor causing repetitive strain injuries.
Alan Hedge, professor of human factors and ergonomics in the College of Human Ecology's Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University, said:
Many hospitals are investing heavily in new technology with almost no consideration for principles of ergonomics design for computer workplaces. We saw a similar pattern starting in the 1980s when commercial workplaces computerized, and there was an explosion of musculoskeletal injuries for more than a decade afterward.
A research study conducted by Hedge and Tamara James, an ergonomist at Duke University Medical Center, asked 179 male and female physicians the frequency and severity of their musculoskeletal discomfort, computer use in their clinic setting, and their knowledge of ergonomics and typing skills.
Among all the complaints reported, neck, shoulder, and upper and lower back pain were the most common. In addition, both men and women reported right wrist injuries on a weekly basis; the same frequency as the other upper body injuries.
"In a lot of hospitals and medical offices, workplace safety focuses on preventing slips, trips, and falls and on patient handling, but the effects of computer use on the human body are neglected," says Hedge.
Hedge also stresses that poor ergonomics among doctors and nurses may affect patient care: Computer-related strain injuries may create more absenteeism from work and errors brought on by strain and fatigue.
In a second study of physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, more than 90 percent of respondents reported using a desktop computer at work an average of five hours per day. While 56 percent of doctors and 71 percent of nurse practitioners and physician assistants reported that their computer work had increased over the course of a year, they reported less face-to-face time with patients. In addition, only 5 percent claimed "expert knowledge" of ergonomics and more than two thirds said they had no input in the planning and design of their computer workspace.
"We can't assume that just because people are doctors or work in healthcare that they know about ergonomics," said Hedge.
How would you rate your computer workspace? Have you started to notice a trend in computer-related injuries among co-workers in your medical facility?