Simple strategies avert physician eye fatigue

March 4, 2004

The most important equipment that radiologists use -- their eyes -- is subjected to daily stresses and strains that can affect job performance. But eye strain is both prevalent and preventable, said Dr. Bruce Forster, an associate professor of radiology

The most important equipment that radiologists use - their eyes - is subjected to daily stresses and strains that can affect job performance. But eye strain is both prevalent and preventable, said Dr. Bruce Forster, an associate professor of radiology at the University of British Columbia, at the RSNA meeting in Chicago.

In a survey of 2700 randomly selected radiologists, 380 respondents noted routine occurrence of both eyestrain (36%) and neck strain (41%). Eye strain is most frequently tied to long workdays and lack of breaks, but surprisingly, it is independent of PACS versus film reporting method, Forster said.

Other risk factors for eye strain among the group surveyed include age: Younger, not older, radiologists in the surveyed population experienced eye strain most often. Monitor screen flicker and reviewing CT screening studies also prompted eye problems.

Strategies for reducing eye strain are simple, Forster said, and start with the basics: eye care, workstation design, and work habits.

"Get your eyes checked," he said. "Make sure your monitor is arm's length distance. And remember ergonomic aspects, such as keeping shoulders relaxed and vertically aligned with ears and hips."

Take frequent breaks, observing the 20/20/20 rule, he added.

"Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds," he said. "And don't forget to blink."

Removing white lab coats can reduce computer screen glare. Attention to the work environment, especially lighting, can also reduce eye fatigue and irritation. Published research on soft-copy reading environments has documented the adverse impact of poor lighting on interpretation time and accuracy, he said.

But the biggest risk factor of all - long workdays - may be one that radiologists can do little about.

"This may finally be the evidence we need to call off at 2 o'clock," Forster said. "It probably falls into the category of ?don't try this at home,' but working more than a six-hour workday statistically increases your likelihood of eye strain."