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Medical Ergonomics Ensures Better Health for Doctors and Nurses

Tuesday, December 01, 2009
By Anne Kramer

The recent introduction of the Safe Patient Handling Bill could revolutionize the medical field. Every year, both medical staff and patients endure countless injuries due to improper lifting. Patient Handling legislation will protect both parties, but it is not the only ergonomic intervention available to doctors and nurses. Not only does ergonomics reduce injuries, but it also prevents medical errors.

Eliminating Shoulder, Neck, and Back Pain

Medical staff must often lift, move, or push patients and cumbersome medical equipment. In consequence, they frequently experience neck, back, and shoulder pain. These conditions are exacerbated by constant standing and walking. Yet the mobility of almost every component of the medical environment can make it difficult to implement traditional ergonomic interventions, which usually require stationary equipment. Thus it is necessary to implement ergonomics creatively.

  • Lifting aids like the EZ Lift drastically reduce the stress placed on medical staffers’ lower backs, because they eliminate a major source of injury. These devices either completely remove or significantly decrease the staff member’s role in lifting and moving patients.
  • If the environment precludes the use of lifting aids, medical staff should be well trained in proper lifting techniques. These practices shift the majority of weight to the large muscle groups, which can better handle heavy lifting.
  • At nurses’ stations or in other areas where staff often stands, anti-fatigue mats relieve stress on the feet, legs, and back. Since anti-fatigue mats are not a viable option for all medical environments, ErgoMates, which strap on over regular shoes, provide constant anti-fatigue cushioning.
  • Nurses who have station duty may also benefit from using a ergonomic telephone headset. Headsets eliminate the bending and leaning associated with consistent phone use, which can result in neck and shoulder pain.

Decreasing User Errors

Ergonomics not only decreases injuries, but it also increases usability of medical devices. An ergonomic evaluation of medical instruments, from heart monitors to catheters, has resulted in updated designs that help to prevent user error, thereby protecting patients.

  • Buttons on a wide variety of devices were placed farther apart, to decrease the possibility of hitting an incorrect button.
  • Simplifying the interfaces on equipment, with color-coding, layout, and other features, makes correct usage more intuitive and straightforward.
  • Hand held devices like digital thermometers are designed to fit comfortably in the hand and reduce pronation of the wrists during use.
  • The multiple alarms on heart monitors were given greater variety in pitch, so that it was easier to differentiate them.
  • Catheters are now made of more durable materials, to withstand the standard amount of user-generated pressure during preparation and insertion.

Ergonomics provides an invaluable method for protecting nurses, doctors, and patients from injuries. Through ergonomic innovations, doctors and nurses enjoy greater personal safety at work and are protected from making mistakes that could injure patients.

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