By Jef Williams
Our work environment is critical to our success, yet we spend so little time considering the conditions and ergonomics of that space. This has been exacerbated by the shift to working from home.
In many cases the home office is pieced together or wedged into a corner of an existing space. There are significant implications to how we are positioned, especially if we spend much of our day in front of a computer. There are numerous studies that show that more than 50% of radiologists, who spend a majority of their time in front of a computer, are experiencing musculoskeletal issues because of poor work environments. Recently I spent some time on a podcast with Greg Patrick, founder of Redrick Technologies. He is an ergonomics expert and we discussed some common issues and ways to improve working conditions for radiologists and for anyone who spends hours at a time in front of a computer.
When one considers the role of a radiologist, the screen is the most important interface. We spend a lot of money on modalities and technology, but it is a radiologist’s eyes looking at a screen that ultimately determines the diagnosis. Consider how one works in front of the computer. The eyes always follow the body. The way desktops and monitors are configured, whether at the correct distance and angle or wedged into a corner, dictate how the body is positioned. A person naturally moves her eyes to the most comfortable position for viewing the screen. If the desktop position is not configured optimally, the body will contort in such a way to support the eyes and its ability to best focus on the object. This leads to neck and back pain and over time can cause significant health issues.
Setting up the workspace, whether it be for a radiologist or not, there are three things to consider. First, the need to be able to both sit and stand while working at a single location. There are many solutions now offering desks that move almost effortlessly allowing people to alternate between these two positions, which is important for lower back health. This means moving the desk so that in either position forearms are at a 90-degree angle, which promotes the ability for one to be relaxed from the shoulders to the hands. I recently saw a poster at my gym (when I was still able to use it) that demonstrated the various problems of a sedentary sitting work life. The human body was not designed to sit. Standing is an important function physically in a work environment.
Most people’s workload continues to increase. The number of hours spent in front of a computer monitor does not typically accommodate for frequent breaks. Introducing a sit-stand option is one step toward improving physical movement and reducing lower back strain. There are many employers that are now integrating personal device information and tying it to their employees’ insurance premiums. By demonstrating that one walks a certain number of steps or is active a certain amount of time can reduce their pre-premiums. Some organizations have now included standing during the workday as a metric because they see the health benefits.
Another important component of a healthy ergonomic environment is the position of the monitors to a correct height and distance. One is physically most comfortable when the monitor is positioned slightly lower than the eyes. This ensures that one’s head is not too far back or forward but rather maintains a neutral position. If you are struggling with neck pain, you may consider repositioning your monitor either higher or lower. And finally, the distance of the monitor from the eyes should be optimized. There is a natural focal depth that varies for each person. Most common is arm’s length to the center of the monitor.
All of us are being asked to do more with less. We are constantly reviewing our workflow and operational models. For radiologists, volumes continue to grow and studies continue to become more complex which requires more screen time. While technology can play a critical role in helping us automate, there is a human element that is not going away. The best way to be efficient is to stay healthy. Yet many of us are working in conditions that will have long-term effects on our eyes, necks and backs. While many of us may not be in a position to design a state-of-the-art desktop, we can take some simple steps to improve our working environment in a way that accommodates better posture and ergonomics.
Jef Williams, MBA, PMP, CIIP, is a managing partner at Paragon Consulting Partners.