Design that is focused on the well-being of the user is called “ergonomics.” In the medical field, these users can be doctors, techs, nurses, and patients. 

Ergonomic equipment is designed to reduce the amount of undue strain on the human body, which is especially important in hospitals. Healthcare employees work long, strenuous hours, and need to spend their energy on caring for patients, not fussy equipment or their own repetitive stress injuries. Patients are injured, exhausted, and often extremely stressed by their situation: all of which are detrimental to recovery. 

These user-focused designs are another tool in healthcare’s belt to improve patient outcomes, to give them a space where their body can heal. Ergonomics is a valuable asset to all healthcare facilities. 

Defining ergonomics in healthcare

Ergonomics is the study of improving efficiency and reducing repetitive injuries. Essentially, this study examines how the human body performs tasks and suggests techniques and equipment that can reduce the physical stress involved. 

Placing importance on the ergonomic design of equipment or furniture in hospitals is vital to patient and staff health. User-focused equipment ensures that whatever the person is trying to access (a patient’s chart or a sleeper sofa in labor and delivery), it is as easy and comfortable as possible. And the longer or more frequently the equipment is being used, the more ergonomic it has to be.

In healthcare, ergonomics is most important for:

  • Equipment – Microscopes, IV stands, computer stations
  • Furniture – Hospital beds, sleeper couches, staff desks
  • Procedures – Transferring patients to different beds/chairs

First let’s get into the nitty-gritty: what happens when these elements aren’t designed with ergonomics in mind? What kind of damage does a lack of ergonomics do to healthcare staff and patients?

The dangers of ignoring ergonomics

Hospital equipment and furniture that isn’t conscious of ergonomics create a harmful environment. In this environment, workplace injuries increase for hospital staff and patients recover more slowly. 

A lack of ergonomics increases workplace injuries

Any workplace that is not conscious of ergonomics is at risk for an increase of work-related injuries. When equipment is hard to get to or operate, employees may engage in more risky behaviors and end up getting hurt. However, hospitals and healthcare stand head-and-shoulders above other workplaces in the dangers of on-site injuries.

OSHA has named hospitals as one of the most dangerous places to work, citing their workplace injury rate as nearly twice the rate of private industry. In fact, hospitals in the United States racked up over 228,000 workplace injuries in a single year (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

The equipment isn’t the sole source of pain, either: there are everyday functions that hospital workers perform which take a toll on their bodies. Transferring a patient from one bed to another necessitates lifting with all of your muscles: this procedure is also sometimes done under duress or at speed. While a single “bad lift” may not injure a staff member, years of bad lifts, twisting, and muscle strain can weaken joints and cause long-term harm.

A study in one hospital found that doctors were not aware of how their own posture during endotracheal intubation could cause or worsen musculoskeletal disorders

In Applied Ergonomics Volume 90, a study entitled “The Effects of Hospital Bed Features on Physical Stresses on Caregivers” showed that the presence of even light assistive features for loading patients into beds reduced nurse injuries by a significant amount. 

These burdens can be lessened with a focus on ergonomics. For example, adjustable hospital beds that allow a patient to roll over from one bed to another comfortably, or tablets that condense a patient’s medical information making it easy to access and read. 

Patient ergonomics is a growing field, one that is helping healthcare understand just how important comfort and ease-of-use is to every person who sets foot in a hospital.

Ergonomic furniture alleviates stress for staff and patients alike

Hospital furniture has never been touted as comfortable. With a view toward ergonomics, that perspective can be changed. 

Ergonomics can directly affect the functions of the body. When the body is stressed, it will take longer to heal. Lack of ergonomics can cause some of that stress. If a patient is consistently uncomfortable, their body may be diverting valuable energy to addressing the discomfort rather than healing, prolonging the recovery process. 

Healthcare staff furniture

Hospital employees who work long shifts (sometimes back to back) can improve their stamina and provide better patient care if their stations and computers are ergonomic and comfortable. 

Workstations on wheels, for instance, need to not only be height-adjustable, but easy to adjust. Any benefits you gain from being able to alter the height go away if it takes a lot of muscle power to make the adjustment, or if the adjustment knobs require access from an odd, straining angle. Heavy workstations on wheels can create their own problems, straining arms and backs over a long period of time. 

Ergonomic, lightweight workstations on wheels solve this problem by being constructed of materials that aren’t heavy, and by having single-motion adjustment levers that don’t require straining or contorting. 

Patient furniture

For patients, hospital beds are one of the primary sources of prolonged discomfort. 

One study showed that fatigue, blood circulation, back pain, comfort, and sleep patterns were all deeply affected by hospital beds lacking proper ergonomic features. 

Also, consider the loungers that overnight guests have to sleep on when staying with a patient. A new parent is probably a much more effective helper for their hospitalized partner and new baby than one who didn’t sleep all night and has a crick in their neck. 

Ergonomic equipment improves health and efficiency

In addition to providing ergonomic furniture around hospitals, hospital equipment must also be as ergonomic as possible to enhance care and efficiency. 

If healthcare workers are carrying heavy clipboards with charts, they may strain their wrists over time. Medical tablets are more comfortable to use than bulky clipboards, and often use rubberized handles to help prevent fatigue over long periods of use. 

Being lightweight, and touch screen, care providers can use these tablets to order what a patient needs easily and effectively. These tablets can also be used when standing, sitting, reclining, or walking, and allow the user to adjust their viewing or usage angle at any time.

Larger display options, like medical monitors, can help caregivers see “the whole picture” when looking at a patient’s information; simultaneously viewing medical history with current diagnosis and options for treatment can all be viewed at once. And because the screen is larger than many off-the-line office-style computer monitors, neck and shoulder strain is reduced. 

Healthcare ergonomics is on the front lines of injury prevention

Ergonomics are important in any workplace; no employee is submitting their best work if they are consistently uncomfortable or it is physically difficult to perform a task they must complete. This has especially drastic side effects in the healthcare realm. 

Patients and healthcare workers who are not provided with an ergonomic environment or equipment may not be giving their best, most efficient care, or may not heal as readily due to the stress that lack of ergonomics can cause in the body. 

Fortunately, ergonomic forms of equipment, furniture, and devices are available so that this important field is able to continue its valuable contribution. 

Contact an expert at Cybernet to find out more about healthcare ergonomics, and how to implement the latest ergonomic medical computers, workstations, and accessories. Also follow Cybernet on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin to stay up to date on this and other relevant topics.