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Medical Ergonomics Can Help Doctors, Save Lives

Posted on 8th Jul 2011 @ 2:58 PM

The discovery and implementation of ergonomics in office environments has relieved discomfort and increased productivity in the American workforce. By eliminating processes and configurations that cause fatigue and confusion, ergonomics has emerged as a crucial building block for a successful business.

So can this success be duplicated in other occupational arenas -- such as medicine?


These days, the medical profession is constantly pressured to "do more with less." And with the recent reform efforts launched by the federal government, medicine will come under increasing scrutiny in the years to come.

But one of the biggest problems in health care today is the prevalence of medical errors. Thousands of mistakes are made in hospitals and other health care facilities every year, and a large number of these result in harm (or even death) to the patients seeking care there. These incidents lead to numerous lawsuits and unnecessary costs -- most of which could be prevented.

That's why there is growing interest in the field of medical ergonomics. If health care institutions can determine where medical errors are likely to occur, then their personnel can design systems and change procedures to stop these mistakes from happening in the first place.

To this end, there are a handful of innovative yet simple solutions that have emerged from these efforts:

  • Operating room checklists. These documents list a host of specific details which must be double-checked before, during, or after surgery - such as which limb to amputate, the correct dosage of anesthesia, and how many sponges or pads were used and accounted for (and not left inside a patient).

  • Test tube carriers. These cardboard, disposable test tube boxes help health care workers carry specimens easily. This should reduce the temptation of shoving them in a pocket and contaminating them or forgetting about them.

  • Transparent refrigerator doors. These enable nurses to see the labeled medications and other ingredients inside the refrigerator and reduce the risk of grabbing the wrong substance.

  • Unique product packaging. The greater number of different containers or packages that a pharmacy can provide, the lesser the chances of a health care worker confusing medications or dosages.

  • Counter heights. Even something as basic as raising the heights of the counters at nurses' workstations can reduce discomfort when nurses prepare medicines.

Though the discipline is in its infancy, medical ergonomics has the potential to avert many types of errors in the health care workplace. In turn, the increase in accuracy should help boost the level of patient care -- and save lives as well.

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