Creative, low-cost ergo solutions benefit health care workers, patients
To help remedy this, use low-cost solutions that have the best chance of gaining buy-in from upper management, suggests one expert. Speaking during a recent webinar, Duke University's Tamara James said that when health care providers are comfortable and free of pain at work, it is more than the doctor, nurse, or technician who benefits.
"We need satisfied employees if we want satisfied patients," James said. "They all have to be at work, they all have to be healthy."
James, the director of the ergonomics division of Duke's Occupational and Environmental Safety Office, cited an example of how changing the computer setup in health care facilities took care of providers' physical well-being while also improving patient satisfaction. Often, a computer in a hospital room or an exam room is anchored in a corner, meaning that providers end up moving back and forth to communicate with the patient and work on the computer.
"Providers often have their backs to the patients while they're on the computer," James explained. "This has a direct impact on patient satisfaction, and it means that the provider has to twist around."
This can be remedied by using a small rolling adjustable table that swivels to allow the provider to face the patient while working on the computer, something that doctors do for more than two hours per day and nurse practitioners and physician assistants do for about five hours per day.
One of the reasons the adjustable table is a good solution is that it was fairly cost-effective, James said. But often, financial concerns make getting buy-in for other ergonomic solutions difficult, James explained, highlighting the importance of thinking creatively to keep costs down.
The best way to sell people on ergonomics solutions is to start with low-cost, quick-fix solutions before moving on to bigger projects. "Go for the cheap solutions first, and plan for the more expensive solutions later," James explained.
As an example, she cited a solution that involved scheduling MRI patients correctly so that proper equipment was available.
"It was a simple scheduling solution that cost nothing," she advised. "We just had to make sure that wheelchair patients were sent to the suites with removable tables" so that providers would not have to lift the patient onto the table in the suite.
Another solution involved an ultrasound technician who experienced left shoulder pain while working with patients.
"By thinking outside the box a little, we asked the technician if she could rotate the patient 180 degrees and scan the patient that way," James reported. "With a little bit of training, she said she could do that, and this change really cost nothing, so management loves this type of solution."
Such thinking is the hallmark of a good ergonomics program, and James reported that her job can be like the 1980s TV hero who often averted disaster with simple, everyday items.
"One of my ergonomists likes to compare us to MacGyver because we, like MacGyver, have to come up with creative solutions," she said. This involves exchanging ideas in LinkedIn groups and walking through Home Depot because "you never know what gadget will help an employee."
By Nancy Grover
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August 5, 2013
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