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Study: OR docs suffer high rates of ergonomic-related injuries

Is scrubbing into the operating room akin to walking onto a busy construction site?

A study published online last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that the prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) among at-risk physicians, defined as surgeons and interventionalists, is comparable to what is reported among industrial workers and other high-risk laborers.

Citing “long work hours involving repetitive movements, static and awkward postures, and challenges with instrument design” endured by procedural physicians in operating rooms, researchers said they appear to face a high risk of developing MSDs.

Researchers examined 21 articles in their meta-analysis. Of the 5,828 physicians that made up the data pool, 19% had degenerative lumbar spine disease, 18% had rotator cuff pathology, 17% had degenerative cervical spine disease, and 9% had carpal tunnel syndrome. Researchers also noted that from 1997 to 2015, the prevalence of degenerative lumbar spine disease and degenerative cervical spine disease increased by 27% and 18.3%, respectively.

In addition to the pain an estimated 35% to 60% of physicians with a work-related MSD experienced, the study found that 12% of those physicians required a leave of absence, had to make changes or restrictions to their practice, or were pushed into early retirement — concerns that the researchers say continue to be overlooked.

They concluded that “given the impending physician shortage, this problem warrants prompt attention and action” and “further research is needed to develop and validate an evidence-based applied ergonomics program aimed at preventing these disorders.”

Until the healthcare industry does that, work-related MSDs are likely to continue to take a physical toll on procedural physicians while also costing hospitals and clinics financially via workers compensation payouts and decreased productivity.