By Juanita Benedict, DPT, CEAS II
I get it. I understand why electronic medical records are necessary. Documenting in this format is supposed to decrease medical errors and improve coordination of health care. I even prefer electronic documentation in most circumstances. Honestly, who wants to sit and hand write 30 detailed notes at the end of the day? It’s a great concept, except … don’t we already spend too much time in front of a screen? Even before the implementation of the electronic record requirements, a study from the Council for Research Excellence in 2009 reported in the New York Times claimed that the average American spends more than eight hours per day in front of a screen! With more of our personal and business interactions being performed in front of the computer or mobile device, how much has that time increased almost seven years later?
Despite the benefits of electronic documenting for overall improved coordination of health and documentation compliance, the fact is that extended screen time is simply not healthy. Here are three reasons why:
1. More prolonged sitting. After sitting all or most of the day, the last thing your body needs is more sitting. However, it is unlikely that you have equipped your office with one of those cool treadmill desks. Sedentary activities promote cardiovascular disease, increase the risk of obesity and consequential health problems associated with it, decrease aerobic capacity and much more. Of course, there is a higher incidence of musculoskeletal pain in those who are more sedentary because the body is simply getting weaker.
2. More poor posturing. Proper posturing is just as important while using a computer as it is when working on patients to decrease risk of developing musculoskeletal dysfunction. Just as proper sitting postures often are lacking when delivering dental care, computer operating postures often leave much to be desired. If you are already experiencing neck/shoulder/back/wrist pain, your computer positioning may be a contributing factor that you have not considered. This is another area where those pesky muscle imbalances wreak havoc.
3. More visual stress. Eye strain is a problem for dental professionals. According to the American Optometric Association, extended time on computers can lead to a collection of symptoms that has been named “computer vision syndrome.” Symptoms include headaches, blurred vision, and even neck and shoulder pain. Since eye strain is already common in dentistry due to the demands of accommodation and such, adding more activities that promote poor eye health is not ideal.
As it becomes more necessary to increase your screen time at work, it becomes even more necessary to change your lifestyle habits. Here are just a few tips on how to counteract some of the consequences of extended computer use:
Unplug: Spend time away from computers, phones, tablets and TV screens! You may be amazed at how difficult this may be at first. However, after a while, this will seem like a refreshing oasis of time. Reconnect with those things you once loved.
Move: Any way you want. Dance. Walk. Swim. Bike. Go to the gym. Play with your kids. Help a neighbor move. Clean the house! It doesn’t matter what you do — just get going. This act alone has tremendous emotional and physical health benefits.
Eat well: With an increase of sedentary activities, there is a decrease in calories burned and increase in fat deposited throughout the body. If you are not training to run a marathon, make sure you are not eating as though you are. Stick to a healthy diet with a lot of fiber and water. Peristalsis tends to slow as we become more sedentary as well, which can lead to bloating and other very uncomfortable things!
Educate yourself: Knowing your risk factors for developing pain and compromising your health is necessary so that you can learn how to overcome them. Use quality and reputable resources to make changes in your daily practice. OSHA has provided a free guide to setting up a proper workstation environment to improve posturing. Other resources provide information on how to assess your computer stations and help you to configure a station that makes long hours of documentation, business transactions, emailing, and even reading blogs more comfortable and safe for you.
It appears electronic documentation is here to stay. So, it is of utmost importance that you learn how to protect your health from the devastating consequences that will result from hours of screen time.
As always: Be healthy and practice safely!
Juanita Benedict is a physical therapist in Florida who works specifically with dental professionals to reduce their pain while practicing as well as extend their careers. For more information, go to www.healthydentistrysolutions.com or contact her at 407.801.3324.