Healthcare News & Insights

Studies: Health IT increasing injuries in doctors and nurses

Health IT tools can help improve care and outcomes for patients. But according to recent studies, they may also create new health issues – for doctors and other staff. 

Use of electronic health records (EHRs) and other health IT systems could put doctors, nurses and other healthcare employees at a greater risk for repetitive strain injuries, such as back and neck pain, according to two recent studies conducted by Cornell University.

Researchers say the problems doctors are experiencing are similar to what was seen in the 1980s after offices in other industries became  primarily computer-based.

One of the studies looked at 179 doctors using EHRs and other health IT systems. Of those clinicians, most female doctors and 40% of male doctors complained about repetitive strain-related neck, shoulder and back pain at least once a week.

More ergonomic training and input needed

The primary causes of medical workers’ injuries, according to the Cornell researchers: improper office layouts and poor use of computers.

When healthcare providers take efforts to improve workplace safety, they most often focus on preventing slips and falls and improving patient handling. Despite the increased use of EHRs and other health IT systems, many organizations have yet to tackle ergonomic computer use as part of the safety initiatives, as shown in the second Cornell study.

Among 180 doctors and 63 nurse practitioners and physician assistants surveyed, 90% use computers and spend, on average, five hours each day at the computer. More than half (56%) of the doctors and 71% of nurse practitioners and physician assistants said they spend more time using a computer at work than they did a year ago.

But despite that increase, just 5% of survey respondents said they had an “expert knowledge” of ergonomics. And more than two thirds said they had no input on the design and planning of their workstations.

Health IT departments can help prevent injuries experienced by doctors and others by offering training on safe computer use, as well as getting more feedback when setting up computer desks and workstations so that they’re comfortable for the people that must use them.

Getting input from clinicians can also help make sure computers in exam rooms are set up in ways that minimize disruptions to communication between doctors and patients — which is one of doctors’ top complaints about EHRs.

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