Health Care, Human Resources, and Manufacturing

Furniture maker rolls out chair for exam room

May 27, 2016
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Steelcase Health Node chair with ShareSurface
A physician talks with a young patient and her family member while seated in the Node chair with ShareSurface. Courtesy Steelcase Health

A local furniture maker has developed a new chair for clinicians as a result of a study that revealed most exam rooms are inhibiting the patient-doctor interactions necessary for successful health outcomes.

Steelcase Health said this month that it conducted a qualitative study from 2014-2015 as part of its ongoing research to uncover new ways to make the exam room experience better for doctors, patients and their family members.

The findings revealed "a significant gap" between the needs of doctors, patients and family members and the design of most exam spaces.

Caroline Kelly, principal researcher at Steelcase WorkSpace Futures, said the study revealed that most exam rooms were not designed for the doctor-patient-family-computer interaction.

“They were designed for the physician to perform physical exams, minimal charting or typing on a computer and to support the presence, but not inclusion of, the family,” Kelly said.

Kelly said it's “time to re-think the exam room experience.”

Due to its findings, Steelcase Health said it's introducing the Node with ShareSurface, a clinician chair exclusively designed to support "a more participatory experience in the exam room."

The swivel-seated chair enables clear, eye-to-eye sight lines between patient and physician when the doctor uses mobile technology, such as laptops and tablets, and a built in, movable arm with a surface that swivels 360 degrees.

The chair is designed to allow doctors to input data about the patient during the visit and share information on the screen with patients and families, while "maintaining a connection" with them to provide a “dramatically enhanced” interaction between physicians, patients and family members.

Additional product features include a seat design that offers physicians easy access to talk with and examine patients, wheels that lend mobility for quick, seamless transitions between configurations and flexible back support with simple adjustments to keep physicians comfortable in a variety of postures.

“What’s needed today is an environment that supports discussion, teaching and learning, all characteristics conducive to partnership and patient engagement,” said Michelle Ossmann, MSN, PhD, director of health care environments, Steelcase Health.

Ossmann said when all participating parties are sharing in the care process, patients are more engaged and tend to better manage their own health, which ultimately leads to healthier people.

Steelcase study findings

Lack of eye-to-eye communication

Large, bulky computers and static furniture is often a barrier to being able to look a patient in the eyes.

Traditional postures reinforce hierarchy

Traditional exam room settings place doctors standing over patients or sitting below them, placing both parties in awkward positions. Ultimately, this discourages behaviors that support the partnership between them.

Technology becomes a barrier

Computers are often positioned for the doctor to view the screen and can create a physical barrier or distance between doctors and their patients. Patients and their families have poor access to information that impacts their understanding and decision making.

Slow and awkward transitions

Static computers and immobile furnishings hinder the physician’s ability to transition quickly between consultation, inputting data, sharing information, ordering labs or prescriptions and performing a physical exam. This can disrupt their workflow and affect their overall efficiency.

Little ergonomic support

Doctors are forced to stand at carts with computers to chart or sit on small stools and lean against a wall or cabinetry to talk to a patient, all negatively impacting their physical comfort.

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