Preventing Endoscopist Injuries Starts With Ergonomics

Will Pass

May 06, 2021

Endoscopists are at high risk of musculoskeletal issues, and a multifaceted strategy is needed to reduce rates of injury, including better body posture and endoscopic suite layout, according to leading experts.

Latha Alaparthi, MD, director of committee operations at Gastroenterology Center of Connecticut, Hamden, and assistant clinical professor at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., noted that female gastroenterologists are at particular risk because they often work with outsize equipment and suboptimal room setup.

"I think it's something for us to recognize, and [we need to] find ways to protect ourselves," Alaparthi said during a virtual presentation at the 2021 AGA Tech Summit sponsored by the AGA Center for GI Innovation and Technology.

Prevalence of Musculoskeletal Injuries in Gastroenterology

Gastroenterologists spend 43% of their time performing procedures, Alaparthi said, and all those hours take a toll on the body. Up to 89% of gastroenterologists report musculoskeletal symptoms – most often back pain, followed by neck pain and hand pain.

Even newcomers to the field are at risk, she added, noting that 47% of gastroenterology fellows report injury in their first year of training. And with one out of three fellows now female, the issue may be a growing concern.

"As female gastroenterologists, we are even more at risk," Alaparthi said. This is partly due to differences in equipment and room design, which "take into consideration 5% of female average measurements and 95% of that of males."

The resultant injuries may be enough to drive female doctors from the field. Alaparthi recounted her colleague's experience in leaving gastroenterology for the pharmaceutical industry after experiencing ongoing neck pain.

"She called me and said 1 week after she stopped doing endoscopies, her neck pain was gone."

For gastroenterologists of any gender, musculoskeletal injuries can cause pain and suffering, reduced quality of life, lost or reduced work output, short-term or permanent disability, lost wages, and impediment to career advancement. Yet physicians aren't the only stakeholders affected by these injuries. Employers stand to lose financially from decreased productivity and increased compensation costs.

"[Injuries have] implications not just to the individual but to the company and to patient care," Alaparthi said.

She went on to suggest that an effective solution to the problem will require efforts from both gastroenterologists and institutions, including greater self-awareness of body positioning, access to anthropometrically suitable equipment, better room design, and a work culture that supports breaks during procedures, if needed.

"We definitely need programs to provide comprehensive work force injury prevention and protection specific to GI endoscopy – not just for gastroenterologists, but for the whole team involved."

Ergonomics in Endoscopy Training

Presenting after Alaparthi, Katherine Garman, MD, associate professor of medicine and vice chief of research, gastroenterology, at Duke University, Durham, N.C., offered ways to incorporate ergonomics into an endoscopy training curriculum.

"Ergonomics evaluates how a job can best fit to an individual, instead of forcing an individual to fit into a job," Garman said. "[This] is a really important concept when we think about training,"

Yet this concept may run counter to most fellows' natural instinct to fit in and avoid being obtrusive, she noted.

"We need to think about empowering [fellows] from the very beginning to be proactive about how [they] interact with the equipment and the space," Garman said. "[They should know] it is perfectly acceptable to adjust the monitor height, move the bed height to an appropriate level, and make the space comfortable ... at the beginning of what should be a long, productive career."

Garman offered several more key points to include in a training program, including increased postural awareness, microbreaks during procedures, and early intervention for prior injuries that may increase risk.

"We've had fellows who've come in who've had fractures, wrist [injuries], shoulder injuries," she said. "We advise early consultation with a physical therapist for those fellows."

In a recently published study, Garman and colleagues invited a physical therapist into the endoscopy suite, allowing for real-time assessment of ergonomic positioning and posturing, as well as wellness planning. Out of eight participating endoscopists, all said that the posture education and procedure suite recommendations were helpful, 87.5% said that the pictures of their posture and movement analysis were helpful, 50% said that the pain education was helpful, and 25% found the personalized exercise plans helpful.

"Endoscopists are not always excited about doing exercises at home," Garman said.

The Ergonomically Optimized Endoscopy Suite

In the next presentation, Mehnaz Shafi, MD, professor of medicine and ad interim chair of the department of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, described how clinicians and institutions can create ergonomically optimized endoscopy suites.

She began by reviewing specific causes of injury, including repetitive motion, high pinch force, and awkward posture, the latter of which can lead to microtrauma, inflammation, and connective tissue injury.

According to Shafi, endoscopists should stand in a neutral position with back straight and knees slightly bent. The patient should be positioned at the edge of the bed, which should be 85-120 cm off the floor. Monitors should be 93-162 cm off the floor and 15-25 degrees below eye level. When interacting with multiple monitors, endoscopists should rotate their entire bodies to maintain a neutral position. Hands and elbows also should be kept neutral, with less than 10 degrees of angulation from the height of the bed. To ensure safer hand grip, Shafi suggested removing any cord loops that may increase tension and using a towel to more evenly distribute gripping force.

Finally, Shafi encouraged awareness of other room hazards, such as slippery floors and exposed wires and tubing.

The presenters reported having no conflicts of interest.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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