Recent statistics show that health care demands are set to increase with a substantial proportion of the ‘baby boomer’ population moving into retirement age. This will lead to two outcomes: 1) increased demand on health care providers in hospitals and clinics, and 2) to deal with the increasing demands, more sharing information through Healthcare Information Technology (HIT), 3) more care tasks will be sent to homecare workers to offset demands on clinical professionals. In this post I will outline how ergonomists and human factors experts can help to deal with these items.
*Increased demands on health care providers:*
The increased demands placed on hospital and clinical staff will be accompanied by increased physical exposure to various risk factors for injury, as well as increased stress that can contribute to psychosocial risk factors for injury in the workplace. This is why so many health care institutions have begun investing in ergonomics programs to help reduce exposures and optimize work organization (Hedge et al., 2011). These programs have been noted to have success in both the United States and Canada (Hedge et al., 2011), and the following elements are noted as being important to success:
- management commitment
- employee involvement
- identification of risk factors in jobs
- development of solutions or controls for risk factors
- evaluation of control effectiveness
- training and education for employees
- appropriate medical management
Many of these elements are commonly seen as success factors in macroergonomics intervention designs as well. It is highly likely that a macroergonomic and participatory ergonomics approach will be needed. Of course, this will require the involvement of an experienced and properly trained ergonomist.
Increasing use of HIT:
A key method of providing information about patients to health care professionals involves HIT. HIT uses web-based technologies, databases and communication methods to share knowledge, provide training and communicate practice and outcomes effectively. As a result of using these systems, health care providers and staff are increasing their amount of computer and web-based systems use in recent years, and this has been accompanied by increased reports of upper limb musculoskeletal disorders (Hedge et al., 2011). These injuries are related to poor HIT workstation designs; hospital and clinical workstations for care workers are still designed in traditional manners where primary care constitutes the main tasks. Without adjustments to the workplace design and organization of work tasks these workstations are not comfortable for long term computer use (Hedge et al., 2011). Ergonomists and human factors experts can help to address these issues to ensure reduced risk of developing computer-based repetitive strain injuries.
Home care tasks:
With increased offloading of care tasks to a ‘home care’ setting, some considerations of how the home care workers and patients will effectively manage these tasks and information are required (Or et al., 2009). For example, what are the best methods to present training and tools through HIT systems? How should the home environment be adapted to allow the best use of the HIT system and information, and activities of the home care worker? Also, it is important to consider the characteristics of the patient. If they have cognitive, motor, visual, auditory or mobility limitations, a suitable workstation design and access systems will likely be needed to allow the worker and patient to carry out tasks. Designing according to these principles would be within the expertise of human factors and ergonomics consultants.
Health care work will show tremendous growth in the coming years. Ergonomics programs help to meet the increased demands to ensure the continued health, productivity and satisfaction of employees are important. We suggest that we keep these issues in mind as we move forward. If you have any other ergonomics issues that you have noted in a healthcare setting, please let us know in our comments section or email us directly.
Hedge, A., T. James, et al. (2011). Ergonomics concerns and the impact of healthcare information technology. International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 41(4): 345-351.
Or, C. K. L., R. S. Valdez, et al. (2009). Human factors and ergonomics in home care: Current concerns and future considerations for health information technology. Work-a Journal of Prevention Assessment & Rehabilitation, 33(2): 201-209.