The Ergonomics of Ultrasound Imaging
“Ergonomics” was the business buzzword of the late 1990s. The ergonomic boom gave the corporate world everything from keyboard wrist supports to office chairs that encouraged proper posture. The ergonomics craze may have died down in corporate offices, but it remains a focal point in healthcare facilities.
Why does ergonomics matter? It plays a big role in patient care and clinician comfort, especially in specialized settings, including diagnostic imaging scans, where manipulating an ultrasound probe all day can take a toll on joints and general posture.
What is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the science of designing and arranging products, equipment, and environments to fit the people who use them. At its core, it is focused on understanding the physical abilities and limitations of individuals and designing systems to optimize safety, comfort, and efficiency.
Ergonomics covers a broad range of elements, including body posture, movement patterns, and environmental factors, such as lighting, temperature, and noise. The goal is to support the body’s natural physiology as applied in everyday life.
Ergonomics in healthcare
Ergonomics is critical in healthcare settings. Healthcare professionals face a heightened risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) due to the physical demands of their work.
Tasks such as lifting, transferring, and repositioning patients, combined with standing or sitting for long stretches of time, can cause chronic pain, fatigue, and repetitive stress injuries. Clinicians also face ergonomic challenges when using medical equipment — even something as simple as an ultrasound probe. With ergonomic practices and/or ergonomically engineered equipment, clinicians minimize their risk of developing stress, strains, and long-term disability caused by repetitive motion and overuse.
And when clinicians are empowered to deliver care without risk of pain or distraction, patients benefit from a higher healthcare standard.
The ergonomics of ultrasound quality
Ultrasound technology continues to revolutionize medical diagnostics. With innovations in design, clinicians can noninvasively and accurately visualize internal organs and tissues in almost any setting, but the application of medical technology is just as important as access.
Proper scan technique involves the correct handling and manipulation of the ultrasound probe, and it’s critical for accurate diagnoses. Factors with the potential to affect image quality include:
- The way a clinician holds and moves the device
- The amount of pressure the clinician applies
- Spec setting adjustments made during a scan
- Extensive scans that keep clinicians stationary for long periods
- Scans requiring approach from an unnatural angle
All this requires not only a level of dexterity, but also foresight for supportive ergonomics. Proper ergonomics — in both probe design and clinician approach — reduce the risk of injury, ensure operator comfort, and improve image quality.
The science of ultrasound ergonomics
There’s a strong body of evidence linking ultrasound ergonomics to better outcomes for clinicians and improved scan integrity.
According to the Journal of Diagnostic Medical Sonography, clinicians can adopt several simple practices to reduce strain immediately. These include:
- Avoiding the application of excessive force to the probe
- Holding the probe with a relaxed grip
- Limiting wrist flexing or finger straining for extended periods
- Shaking out and stretching hands, wrists, and shoulders between imaging applications
- Reducing contact pressure by resting the forearm and elbow on cushioned supports
While these practices are proven to lower a clinician’s risk of pain or stress injuries, form factor still matters, which is one reason for the continuous innovation of ultrasound probe technology.
Beyond getting smaller, ultrasound probes are designed with consideration for the user’s physiology. From comfortable grip materials to the physical shape of the probe and the design of support equipment, ultrasound innovators are seeking to improve equipment efficacy by making it easier to use.
Ergonomic probe design may not sound like much compared to a lot of modern medical technology, but any modification that improves diagnostic integrity is critical. For sonographers, an ultrasound probe that is comfortable to use means higher-quality imaging, which improves diagnostics and the overall imaging experience for clinicians and their patients.