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Ergonomics in Health Care - More than Safety and Comfort

by Joan Trombetti , Writer

The problem with these workstations, in many cases, is price. Ergonomically designed workstations can initially be more expensive than purchasing run-of-the-mill office equipment. Those in charge of purchasing such equipment need to consider the long-term cost-to-benefit picture. Although the initial expense may be more, workers experiencing back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome brought on by poorly designed workstations will be less productive and more prone to taking sick leave, likely costing a facility more than the initial investment in the ergonomically designed work stations.

Ergonomic Design Meets Function
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Grant Davidson, Vice President Philips Design, Chief Design Officer Healthcare, and Marja Zuurman, Philips Creative Director, Healthcare sector are part of a team at Royal Philips Electronics that have earned the company awards acknowledging beneficial applications of ergonomics. In fact, Philips earned 22 awards at the prestigious annual iF competition, seven in the healthcare category, which recognizes high quality design across a range of criteria including degree of innovativeness, functionality, workmanship, design quality and ergonomics. "The iF product design awards are highly prestigious and any product that wins one has to meet the highest standards of design, including ergonomic factors, which create solutions to improve people's health and well-being," says Davidson.

Because many medical devices are now computer based, Zuurman explains that the research team at Philips spends a great deal of time using ergonomic computer hardware modules to study and identify what makes medical devices work best. Specialists consider all factors including human error and patient safety - huge factors in the usability of medical devices. Product specialists then design an ergonomically sound product, which is tested extensively both in-house and on-site to make sure the medical devices is appropriately evaluated and meets the needs of the user.

The future of ergonomics

Tamara James, Ergonomics Director, Duke University, has offered an ergonomics program for the past 16 years which addresses many of the health concerns affecting hospital employees including lifting, repetitive motion, awkward postures and more. "We see these issues in nursing, surgery, pharmacy, radiology, maintenance, laundry, housekeeping, and elsewhere," says James. She believes that good design of the human computer interface is critical for reduced injuries and errors. Her wish is for the development of a better mechanism to relay information about good (and bad) designs to manufacturers of specialized medical equipment so that "only the best possible designs are introduced into the marketplace." She also hopes that when a company designs a product they feel is ergonomically sound, the company checks with an ergonomic expert to make sure that the product meets the requirements to bring safety and comfort to both users and patients.

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