Better reading room design gains new attention and momentum

August 1, 2007

The shift to digital imaging has had its share of leaders and laggards. Among the leaders have been the ever improving technologies for image collection, storage, and management. Similarly, reporting processes have taken a big jump ahead with voice recognition.

The shift to digital imaging has had its share of leaders and laggards. Among the leaders have been the ever improving technologies for image collection, storage, and management. Similarly, reporting processes have taken a big jump ahead with voice recognition.

At the other end of the scale, laggards include the reading room. Only now, it seems, has there emerged a fairly widespread understanding of the importance of good reading room design and the factors that contribute to a better digital reading environment.

One of the first and most important events in the process of bringing this information forth was a study by Dr. Osman Ratib and colleagues at the University of Los Angeles (Computer-aided design and modeling of workstations and radiology reading rooms for the new millennium. Radiographics 2000;20[6]:1807-1816). Using 3D computer modeling techniques, Ratib and colleagues showed how image interpretation workstations could be fit into a small setting while simultaneously improving the quality of the workspace.

One revelation from the study was that workstations with a modular design and small barriers separating them from other workstations could reduce noise and distractions. This started a major shift from the open ballroom reading environment that had dominated (and, in many cases, still dominates) digital reading room design.

Another significant event was the 2004 meeting of the Society for Computer Applications in Radiology where the physical reading environment was given a special focus. Among the highlights was a "Digital Eye for an Analog Guy" video send-up of the television show with a similar name. In the video, a strike team embarks on a mission to improve the ergonomic design of the reading room at the technically advanced but architecturally challenged Baltimore VA Medical Center, while also reinvigorating the lives of two residents who were feeling isolated as a result of declining face-to-face consultations. The video delivered practical guidelines for improving reading room design.

SCAR's successor, the Society for Imaging Informatics in Medicine, this year again addressed crucial reading room design and workspace issues. A presentation by Dr. Nabile Safdar, an assistant professor of diagnostic radiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center, provided an interesting look at the political dynamics of better reading room design.

The problem, Safdar said, is that no one really "owns" the reading room design issue; it's not part of anyone's job description. Because the reading room spans a number of radiologists, responsibility for the space becomes diffuse, and getting it improved becomes more difficult. Radiologists come to tolerate rooms that are too hot or too cold, are too bright or too dark, or have workstations and tables that don't adjust. You need someone in practice who takes ownership of designing the reading room. Without this, no one does it.

Besides reduced radiologist comfort and less efficient interpretations, there is another consequence of poor reading room design: a perception of reduced quality, Safdar said. The reading room is not just an environment for radiologists; it is the face of your practice and the place where clinicians visit.

If the reading room is not well taken care of, is poorly designed, and doesn't take into account the needs of physicians, they may begin to think that quality is not a priority.

There is plenty of information available on reading room design and how it can be improved. These last two elements-strategy (making someone responsible) and rationale (the need to present the best face to your customers)-help round out the picture and build the case for making better reading room design a goal of every radiology practice.