Why Our Healthcare Environments Can Reduce Workplace Injury

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Alan RheaultBy Alan Rheault

As the wave of changes shifts our healthcare system from diagnosis and treatment to prevention and wellness, clinicians and nurses play a key role in shaping the healthcare environment and the patient experience. Yet this group is highly susceptible and vulnerable to work place injuries. While we look to advance our healthcare model, experience and environment overall, we need not only think of the patient but also the professional caregiver.

Statistics from the American Nurses Association actually shows registered nurses (RNs) ranked fifth of all occupations in the number of work days missed due to occupational injuries and illnesses. In a recent survey titled the 2013 State of Clinician & Nurses Report, undertaken by Nurture by Steelcase, 35% of clinicians and nurses report being injured at least once on the job while 24% had to modify activity or movement during at least one shift. Significant shifts are adding complexity to the healthcare system, as new challenges interface with new opportunities. Nurse to patient ratios, the expectation to provide “guidance and leadership”, the integration of technology, diversity and specialization and expanding responsibilities are all at play. 

However, among the top issues identified from this study and other sources, is safe patient handling in an effort to prevent injury such as musculoskeletal disorders in clinicians that can come with lifting patients. According to the above report the bulk of injuries are due to patient transfers, where one in three clinicians and nurses have experienced an injury in moving patients from bed to chair. 47% of those surveyed perform patient transfers more than once a week. 

Reducing injury risk and ensuring greater wellbeing amongst clinicians is a common and shared goal within many healthcare systems, but how to achieve it remains a focus of continuing talk and debate.

The State of Clinicians report revealed the following findings that clinicians themselves have resorted to in an effort to find a solution:

Personal fitness was identified as key in successfully avoiding personal or patient injury. 

65% of respondents say they maintain their physical fitness in order to perform tasks that are physically risky.

More than half of clinicians cite the use of assistive devices in patient transfers. 

This ranges from specialized tools like beds and recliners to makeshift solutions like using a pad or sheet as a wedge.

74% of respondents report they regularly call on their colleagues for assistance in performing physically risky tasks. 

Clinicians also highlighted that their spaces and equipment have room for improvement, and there is an appetite for this change. When asked what is the one thing they would change about their work environment, 48% referred to updating furniture or rethinking the design or layout of the space as most important. There is a significant opportunity to strategically rethink how healthcare spaces can dramatically improve the experiences of clinicians which in turn will create greater patient outcomes overall.

With all the pressing demands on healthcare leaders today, it is understandable that the consideration of how the physical space can have a significant impact on patient behavior and indeed on their staff behavior is placed lower in the ranks of priority. But reimagining healthcare starts with insights about what people want and need and healthcare spaces intentionally designed can have a significant effect on how fast we move towards a better quality of care for everyone involved in the care continuum. 

Focused on research and design intent, Alan Rheault has been Director of Industrial Design of Nurture since 2005. He is part of the core team that launched the Nurture brand. Under his leadership, Nurture has developed a number of innovative, award-winning products, including Regard, Empath, Opus™ Over Bed Table, modular caregiver station solution Sync™, and mobile workstation solution Pocket™. Rheault is among HealthCare Design Magazine’s top 10 product designers of the year (2009). He has more than 17 years of experience with Steelcase.