Most hospitals and healthcare facilities do not consider the full range of vital functions their radiology reading rooms support when designing the space. Historically, radiology was viewed as a cost center and a singular focus on productivity drove many reading rooms to basements and other remote locations. Often, the central reading area was removed entirely from the main radiology department. An increasing realization that radiology must become part of the clinical care continuum and progressively contribute to clinical value is shining new light on the reading room itself.
Understandably, the purchase of new radiology workstations often occurs without much thought to the revitalization of other critical reading environment factors. However, these factors can be critical in selecting the right workstations and avoiding costly mistakes. Many radiology department administrators are familiar with the American College of Radiology (ACR) Imaging 3.0 initiative, which advocates a value-based emphasis on radiology department contributions. The initiative highlights improved communications of critical findings, management of imaging appropriateness, and actionable reporting as key radiologist contributions, all of which can benefit from a well functioning reading room environment.
Significant progress has been made over the past decade to understand radiology reading room workflow and space utilization in the realm of PACS-based reading. A radiology department can maximize space utilization by leveraging the insights of health care design experts who apply good ergonomic design principles. As a result, many radiology departments have begun to incorporate comprehensive ergonomic design. Elements such as sit/stand workstations sized to maximize space utilization can not only improve ergonomics but also free-up space for patient and physician conferencing/consulting areas or a reading room administrator. Workstations outfitted with integrated adjustable backlighting can reduce eye-strain from overhead lights. Ergonomic considerations also include adjustable seating, keyboards, and mice, and can serve to reduce neck, back, shoulder, and wrist injuries. A comprehensive approach to ergonomic optimization can also incorporate adjustable workstations and display mounts in order to maximize radiologist productivity and interpretive integrity, and reduce the risk of chronic neck injury.
In addition to ergonomic considerations, a complete workflow analysis can help radiology administrators determine the optimal furniture and placement for the space. Because the reading room should be a space that facilitates the exchange of information, a workflow analysis will ensure that broader needs of the organization are met and will contribute to a more efficient department. For example, simply trying to maximize the number of reading workstations may not adequately address the need for radiologists to meet with other physicians while minimizing distractions, or sufficiently account for required storage space. Furthermore, a thorough workflow analysis should provide space design insights that can be used to optimize room ingress/egress, minimize distraction, and provide radiologists with sufficient room for referring physician consultations.
PACS administration and IT support staff needs in the reading room should also be considered and can be achieved with workstations that mount computer hardware on rails, directly to the underside of the work surface. This enables them to be pulled forward for easy service and administration, and reduces the risk of disruption from a CPU being kicked or cables being inadvertently disconnected. The design also minimizes the effort required by a radiologist to load and review historical studies from CD-ROM due to improved workstation access.
Whether relocating a room or refreshing an existing space, simple improvements to HVAC, lighting, surface materials and colors, room organization, and ergonomics can create a productive and inviting environment that enables radiologists to increase their clinical contributions and improve customer service.