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User-friendly furniture is good medicine

By Rob Sagot

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, medical practices throughout Philadelphia are searching for ways to increase the bottom line of their business. What can be done to ensure that year-end financial goals are being met without sacrificing the care of patients? Like all good things, the truth can be hidden in the details. One of those details is the practice’s office design, furnishings and filing systems.

Proper “office mechanics” can lead to a better bottom line easily, quickly and affordably by eliminating the losses associated with repetitive stress injuries, poor employee performance and wasted time. The secret is in how to make your practice more user-friendly.

It used to be that an office manager with a swift hand at typing and an accurate date book could handle the everyday activities of a practice. Nowadays the doctor’s office is as high-tech as most corporations. But with the increased use of computers comes the possibility of an increase in injuries and, in turn, an increase in lost revenues for the practice. Although computers are unrivaled as a labor-saving device, they still require repetitive keyboard, mouse and trackball motions that can lead to injury.

With increased dependence on computers, there is less and less need for employees to walk about the office. While this may be a real time-saver, the fact is that the lack of “exercise” leaves workers open to back and circulation problems from prolonged sitting.

Air quality is another critical factor in office health. Electronic equipment, including computers, fax machines and photocopiers, generates hot, stale air that is not always easy to ventilate, especially if the practice is located in an older office building. Hot, stale air can lead to fatigue, alertness problems as well as colds and upper respiratory ailments.

A logical starting point is the workstation. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to examining options.

The workstation should have a glare-resistant surface area at least two feet deep to contain a computer’s main unit and monitor. For maximum comfort, the desktop height should be between 28 and 28.5 inches off the ground. Proper monitor height can prevent neck problems caused by looking up or down at a screen, but ideal height varies from person to person and monitors can be difficult to move around. A swivel arm that allows users to set the ideal monitor height makes this adjustment easy.

A workstation should also have plenty of kneespace under the surface to allow the user’s feet to stay flat on the floor for decreased risk of back injuries and improper circulation. Some workstations include a bracket to hold a large CPU under the desk, conserving surface space while allowing easy access to the unit.

Thanks to modular panel systems, there is an easy solution to the ventilation problems that can result from office equipment. Workstations with tall panels that permit optimum airflow are popular and affordable.

Having a full compliment of computers and computer networks also means having the web of wiring that comes with them, making built-in wiring conduits essential for networked computer systems.

The phone lines and cables that link a practice’s computers together and connect them with computers on the outside can be channeled entirely within the frames of the workstations without the need to dismantle the workstation or remove worksurfaces.

An orderly, hidden wiring system is not only aesthetically pleasing, it protects the wires and can make troubleshooting a network or searching for a bad connection easier. And by keeping wires concealed, a practice can eliminate serious safety hazards such as tripping and wire fraying.

Another piece of office furniture that gets lots of use but is not thought about very often is the chair. Since workers spend most of their day in their chair it is important for them to have the correct body positioning. When seated at computer terminals, users tend to lean forward, putting pressure on their arms and backs; over time, this posture can lead to a multitude of injuries. For these users, ergonomically engineered chairs that offer comfort while preventing injury are vital.

The best ergonomic chairs on the market respond easily to changes in body position, are on casters for mobility and rock and swivel with the user. For proper ergonomic positioning, seat height should be set so the user’s feet stay flat on the floor at all times. Arm rests should not get in the way or bump against the desk and should provide support for the wrists and hands.

Medical records are one of the most important facets of a practice. Although we’re slowly moving to a paperless business world, volumes of paperwork are still being created and need to be filed along with x-rays, test results, charts, and other important information.

When a practice misplaces a file, it’s more than just an inconvenience, it’s an expense and in extreme cases may even be life threatening. Each practice has a preferred method of filing. A good filing system conserves valuable floor space. On a cost-per-inch basis, a shelf file that offers 2000 filing inches is 70 percent more space-efficient than a traditional vertical file. With minimal cost differences among filing systems, practices don’t have to deny themselves the most efficient systems in the name of cost savings.

One of the best ways to keep costs down in the future is to be proactive. A practice properly furnished with employees in mind will be a productive, efficient workplace now and in the future.

Rob Sagot is operating president of Sagot Office Interiors in Moorestown, New Jersey.

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