As caregivers’ workdays include more virtual care, they potentially face new health risks. That’s because the increased use of screens, computers, smartphones and other technologies can expose caregivers and staff to risks we usually associate with sedentary office work.
To protect their caregivers’ well-being, organizational leaders need to understand the risks of prolonged computer work and support healthy habits for this new way of working.
What Are the Health Risks of Computer Work?
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the use of telehealth, and most patients will continue to want virtual care options. For many caregivers, this means spending more time with patients in virtual environments and spending less time moving between patient rooms. This can have both physical and mental health implications.
Physical Health Risks
Computer work often leads to static postures that can contribute to neck and back pain. That includes sedentary behaviors, which refers to sitting without getting up to stand or walk at least every 30 minutes. Extended periods in front of a computer or screen can also lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive-motion injuries.
Research shows that sedentary behavior is linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and all-cause mortality. It also increases the risk for metabolic syndrome by as much as 73% and is associated with increased risk for some cancers, including ovarian cancer.
Mental Health Risks
Prolonged sedentary behavior can also threaten mental health and well-being. According to a study of about 1,500 adults, prolonged sitting was correlated with higher rates of depression and lower measures of quality of life. Some research shows an association between sedentary work and anxiety.
3 Healthy Workday Habits
In light of growing burnout and quit rates, organizations need to promote healthy habits to help reduce the negative effects of computer work and sedentary behavior—something most healthcare professionals have not had to consider in the past.
To encourage an active webside manner, try these tips:
1. Improve Postures
Uncomfortable positions like hunching over a laptop can cause musculoskeletal pain and strain. Instead, organizations can promote neutral postures by encouraging occasional standing with standing desks, workstations on wheels or wall-mounted desks.
Neutral postures keep the head, neck, shoulders, spine and hips aligned to help prevent pain. They also make breathing easier and encourage eye contact when a caregiver looks at a screen during a video call.
Tips for Maintaining a Neutral Posture While Standing
- Position the monitor so the user’s head faces forward, remains level, and doesn’t tilt.
- Keep the forearms, wrists and hands straight and parallel to the floor.
- Keep the ears, shoulders, hips and ankles lined up.
- Position the keyboard to keep shoulders relaxed and upper arms hanging normally.
- Keep elbows close to the body and bent between 90 and 120 degrees.
Tips for Maintaining a Neutral Posture While Sitting
- Position the feet slightly forward on a footrest or flat on the floor.
- Use a chair with at least three adjustable points, including armrests, lumbar support, and chair height and depth.
- Sit vertically or lean slightly back to support the back.
- Keep the thighs parallel to the floor to support the hips.
- Align the knees with the hips or keep them slightly lower.
2. Encourage More Movement
Healthcare professionals have a reputation for constantly being on the move. That’s not always the case in this telehealth-dominated healthcare industry. Promoting a balance of movement and rest throughout the day can help reduce the harmful effects of sedentary work and provide these benefits:
- Reducing sitting by at least one hour a day helps decrease the risk for cardiovascular disease.
- Getting six minutes of light activity like standing while working at a monitor wall mount offers similar health benefits as one minute of moderate or vigorous exercise.
- Limiting sitting to 25-75% of the workday can help lower back and neck pain.
Adding more movement to the workday doesn’t have to interrupt workflows or productivity. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends these simple exercises that caregivers and staff can do at their desks:
- Roll the head side-to-side in half circles.
- Roll shoulders forward and backward.
- Step side to side.
- Walk or march in place.
- Roll up on the toes and then back on the heels.
- Bring the right arm up overhead and lean toward the left hip. Repeat with the opposite arm while leaning to the other side.
- Lift one knee and bring it down. Repeat with the other knee.
- Press both arms forward and then bring the elbows back.
- Stretch both arms up and then down.
3. Incorporate Adjustable Workstations
Keeping neutral postures while standing or sitting is easier with the right equipment. Organizations can choose from many options that support safety and comfort while maintaining productive workflows.
Caregivers who need or prefer fixed workspaces can benefit from sit-stand desk converters, wall-mounted monitor arms or wall workstations. Many provide an independently adjustable monitor or keyboard for ergonomic comfort. Mobile medical carts also offer an ergonomic fit for professionals who need to move from room to room or throughout a facility.
To choose a quality, ergonomic workstation, be sure to ask:
- Is the product easily adjustable?
- Is it compatible with add-on accessories like a monitor or an adjustable keyboard?
- Does it have at least three adjustment points?
- Are the adjustment points independent of each other?
- For a computer on wheels, is it compatible with all types of carpet and flooring?
- Does the product come from a reputable company with a solid record of performance and customer service?
The continued shift to virtual care requires building a culture that fosters well-being no matter how caregivers and staff work. Taking steps to improve postures, encourage more movement, and incorporate adjustable office furniture can help organizations prioritize their people and support the best patient care.
To learn more about how to support caregiver and staff well-being, read the full whitepaper, “Support Caregiver and Staff Well-Being Amid the Rise of Virtual Care.”