Pilot study points to the potential for OMM in workplace ergonomics


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, work-related musculoskeletal disorders account for one-third of all U.S. workplace injuries and illness cases. 

Physicians are not immune from workplace injuries. A paper in the December Journal of the American Osteopathic Association points to the need for more research exploring ergonomic or osteopathic manipulative medicine interventions that might be beneficial to ophthalmologists, and potentially to people in other workplaces. 

Zachary Pearce, an ophthalmologist practicing in Troy, Michigan (and member of the MSUCOM Class of 2009), conducted a pilot study with Mathew Zatkin, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Osteopathic Manipulative Medicine, and Jonathan Bruner, an associate professor in OMM who also operates a private practice in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. 

“Ergonomics, physician burnout and avoiding injuries are all hot topics,” Pearce says. “Primary studies to investigate them are survey-based and there are a lot of weaknesses in those studies due to response rates and bias.”

They explored the idea of using OMM to address and quantify workplace-related musculoskeletal disorders. While his own background as an engineering major at MSU came in to play, he also called on Zatkin and Bruner to help design a process that would allow him to quantify musculoskeletal change with few variables. 

The three used the MSU Learning and Assessment Center’s cataract surgery simulator to study the frequency and patterns of musculoskeletal stress among ophthalmology residents to lay the groundwork to measure any improvements after ergonomic intervention. 

The participating ophthalmology residents volunteered for the study and completed both arms of the study -- one arm that used the surgery simulator and a control arm that completed a set of passive and active tasks. Both sets of residents received a screening before and after the exercise to measure their musculoskeletal stress.

“The majority, after using simulator, had more musculoskeletal stress and the control group had less,” Pearce said.
He emphasizes that the study is a pilot intended to encourage further exploration. “My main goal wasn’t to affect cataract surgeons specifically, but more broadly, to encourage industry to bring more research to osteopathic departments and use OMM to quantify that what they are doing is valuable.”

“You can apply it to any medical specialty, to any office workplace environment — the possibilities are endless if you have a quantifiable, reliable method of measuring change in a way that is inexpensive and non-invasive.” 

Zatkin agrees.

“The implications for this are broad,” he says, “from limiting time at sessions, to improving the ergonomics of the workspace, even to design modifications in the actual surgical apparatus. It may even cause a change in the scheduling approach for certain surgeons who are prone to back pain after surgery.”

The paper, “Musculoskeletal Disorders in Ophthalmologists after Simulated Cataract Operation: A Pilot Study” can be found at http://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2664814.