January / February 2016
Embellishing the Reading Room: Superfluous Spending?
by Greg Patrick, President, RedRick Technologies
Tobias Gilk, Principal, RAD-Planning

We’ve all seen them…. Reading rooms thrown together in repurposed storage rooms, with monitors plunked down on a folding table, with a desk chair purloined from an unused office. They look like the afterthoughts that they were: ramshackle and temporary. If the value of a radiology report occurs between PACS monitors and the radiologist’s eyeballs, and then between his/her mouth and the Dictaphone, then the accoutrements of the room really don’t matter, do they?

If we accept that (perhaps) read room design didn’t matter in the past, we need to look at how imaging technology has changed, and what this has done to radiologists’ work. Instead of reading films for a two-view X-ray study, a single MRI or CT study might involve reviewing 20 or thirty tomographic views, and comparing those 20 or 30 views with prior MRI exams, or reconciling findings with a SPECT nuclear medicine study, and the X-ray study that triggered the initial diagnostic question. Yes, the radiologist is doing fundamentally the same task - reading images and dictating findings – but the volume and complexity of the tasks have increased by orders of magnitude.

The explosive growth in reading volumes has meant that radiologists run the risk of becoming effectively chained to their reading station for eight or ten hours per day, repeating the same small numbers of motions over, and over, and over, and over. This type of work, performed in an environment not specifically designed to support it (and reduce wear and fatigue), is the perfect recipe for repetitive strain injuries, and radiologists are increasingly reporting these types of workplace injuries.

Radiologists are also discovering that being functionally invisible to the other care providers has had significant clinical and professional consequences. Their standing among their peers and within their institutions is improved when they aren’t viewed as cave-dwellers, afraid of the light and human interaction. Hospitals are also finding that active face-to-face dialogue between radiologists and referring physicians is improving patient care. While the growing importance on interaction doesn’t take away from a radiologist’s need to read, it does mean that the reading environment isn’t exclusively a reading environment… it is the platform for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Creating and appointing a reading room to respond to today’s workload and collaboration needs also produces direct benefits for both the hospital / practice, and the radiologist (if his/her compensation is tied to reading volume). Multiple independent studies have shown objective increases in productivity with improved ergonomic furniture solutions and room designs. These range from a low-end improvement of 5%, to upwards of around 15%. When taken against radiologist salaries and the value of their reports, it is easy to see a meaningful return on investment for creating reading room environments that are tailored to their purpose.

Both hospitals and radiologists are becoming increasingly aware of the costs of shabby reading rooms, in terms of productivity and workplace injury. Increasingly, comfortable and ergonomic read rooms are tools of physician recruitment and retention (and reductions in workplace injury costs).

So what are the key ingredients to effective read room design?

The essential transaction is still between the PACS station and the radiologist. We call this the “Primary Zone.” This means that the desk, computer workstation, and monitors are the central focus. To accommodate different heights and comforts of radiologists, the desk needs to be able to adjust the work surface height, the distance between the work surface and the center of the monitors, and also the focal distance and viewing angle of the monitors.

The fact that the desk is our first focus does not mean that the rest of the room is unimportant. For long hours of viewing, lighting is critically important, and the individual radiologist’s ability to adjust the lighting levels of the room, and not just the monitors, is essential to reducing eye fatigue. Backlight behind the monitor mounts, to reduce the contrasting light levels of the monitors and the wall, as well as dimmable ambient room lighting can reduce the abuse on the radiologist’s eyes over long shifts.

Acoustic designs are also important. Acoustic space needs may vary, substantially, depending on the ‘privateness’ or ‘collaborativeness’ of a reading station and the degree to which reading stations are separated from one another. This isn’t to say that reading rooms should be made as quiet as possible (ultra-quiet read rooms may have the effect of amplifying any small acoustic annoyance), and in fact sometimes it is best to introduce background noise such that individual sounds or voices are less distinct in the presence of ambient sounds.

While there are best practice standards for read room design, the best results come from a customized solution that looks at the reading requirements, the workflow requirements, the degree of collaboration desired, and private or ganged reading environments. Workstation and room configurations can be specifically developed to respond to each of these considerations, creating reading rooms that provide significant benefits to both hospitals and radiologists.


RedRick Technologies manufactures custom reading room workstation solutions and – with RAD-Planning - offers full reading room consulting design services. RedRick products are available in the Americas and in the Gulf Region.

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THE RADIANT: Arab Health Edition Homepage
January / February

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