Improve Radiologist Efficiency with Better Lighting

December 3, 2013

CHICAGO - Making low-cost changes in lighting and adding a sound-masking system can improve radiologists’ performance and health.

CHICAGO - In trying to improve technology and efficiency, radiologists often neglect to protect their own health and safety.

Increasing numbers of radiologists report eye strain and neck pain and wear wrist and elbow braces.

Designing ergonomic offices for radiology departments not only helps protect staff physically, but increases productivity and reduces stress, said Eliot Siegel, MD, professor at University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Diagnostic Radiology. Siegel is also chief of Imaging Services for the Maryland Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare System at the Baltimore VA Medical Center.

“Whether you’re a radiologist or technologist, I think we’re seeing an increase in complexity of things that we’re doing,” Siegel said during a session at RSNA 2013. That complexity heightens the need for comfortable workstations and environmental controls.

Because radiologists’ visual acuity in reading of information is so crucial to outcomes, optimizing conditions is critical, he said.

Many of the available improvements are relatively inexpensive. One place to start is lighting.

Research has shown that if you get the lighting wrong, Siegel said, that can not only increase radiologists’ fatigue and reading times but decrease accuracy. A mismatch between the brightness of the monitor and the brightness of the room lighting is directly related to productivity level and accuracy of interpretation, he said.

Particularly problematic is fluorescent light. Different people have different ability to perceive the flicker in the lights but even if you’re not aware of it, the flicker can cause fatigue. He recommends getting rid of the overhead fluorescent lights and replacing them with LED lights, which don’t flicker.

“Nowadays, I would strongly recommend LED lighting. Cost of a 65-watt LED bulb is about $10 or so.” With any lighting system, it’s important to have dimmable controls, he said.

Sitting in front of a computer screen takes its toll on radiologists, as well. He described increased cases of myopization - people who sit at a computer in excess of four hours actually become increasingly nearsighted as the day goes on, he said.

Sitting in front of a monitor for long periods can lead to eyestrain, itching, tired eyes, blurred vision. That, he said is related to the blink rate.

“The average blink rate for those of you in the audience … is about 22 blinks per minute,” Siegel said. But when you’re sitting at a screen, that decreases to about seven blinks per minute. “Two hours of work at a computer monitor is enough to decrease visual acuity and decrease ability to essentially focus.” The need for more light to maintain the same visibility increases “exponentially,” after the age of 40, he said.

He recommends to 20/20/20 rule. Every 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds to reduce eye strain.

Task lighting - from lamps - can help reduce eyestrain as well as choosing a blue background for monitors which can reduce stress and improve visual acuity.

Masking sound important

One of the most distracting factors of a radiologists’ office is the noise from staff, consults and scanners. You want to keep sounds such as those from scanners out of the room in the first place, but also absorb the sounds within.

Acoustic paneling and carpeting will help minimize noise.

“But if there’s only one suggestion you remember from the entire talk, it [should be a] sound-masking system,” Siegel said. It emits the general sound level of the human voice and works like sound-canceling headphones.

The cost is about $400 to $600, Siegel said, “and if you invest in nothing else, I strongly suggest you consider it.”