Ergonomics and Medical Transcription: Laptops

Medical Transcription1 Comments

I love my laptop. After years of happy desktop computer use I thought my leap into the laptop world would not really change my usage or feelings toward the machine, but boy, was I wrong! I love to curl up on the couch or cozy under the covers, all happy and convenient, to check my email one more time before I call it a day—try that with a desktop. (Just kidding. Don’t try it. It’s really hard to keep the monitor from falling over on the pillows and the cords get all tangled and the mouse doesn’t really work very well on the blankets…don’t ask.) Then there’s the undeniable cuteness factor—laptops are like baby computers, little and portable, and getting cuter all the time. Yep, I love my laptop.

So I really don’t like to talk about this, but I have to. Here goes. Laptops are not ergonomically friendly. It’s sad but true. Because the laptop keyboard and screen are attached, they cannot be positioned independently. The cold, hard fact is when the keyboard is positioned correctly, the monitor isn’t, and vice versa.

If you use your laptop casually, you may not notice any pain, strain, or really any problems at all, but if you use your laptop as a workstation or if it is your main (or only) computer, at some point you will probably run into repetitive stress injury caused by incorrect posture and less-than-optimal wrist, elbow, and neck positions.

Fortunately, there are a couple of things you can do to ergonomically retrofit your beloved laptop for hardcore work purposes.

Utilize plug-in peripherals.
Most laptops will accept a full-sized keyboard and mouse, so go ahead and attach them to your laptop. This is a great option because you can correctly position your favorite ergonomic keyboard and mouse and avoid the dreaded twinges and tingling of impending CTS. Next, place the laptop itself on a table or desk, at an appropriate distance and height. Voila!

Yes, I realize these measures basically make your laptop a desktop, so the carry-anywhere convenience factor is diminished. I’m afraid that’s the tradeoff for long-term, serious use. The good news, however, is you can still unplug the peripherals, wind them up like little lassoes and tuck them into your bag for toting along—try that with a desktop. (Just kidding. Those airport security personnel frown at you if you try to get through security with your big ol’ monitor in one arm and the tower in the other…like I said before, don’t ask.) You always have the option of not plugging in your ergonomically correct peripherals, of course. It’s nice to have options.

So your laptop is still a convenient, cute little friend. Just as an adorable human cherub can become a screaming banshee in the heart of the night, however, it’s important to remember cuteness is fickle and can turn on you. For your continued health and wellness, be prepared to use the grownup-sized keyboard and mouse if you use your laptop for more than checking your Facebook page.

For more information, check out these websites:
Laptop workstation ergonomics
Using a laptop as a desktop
Laptop ergonomics
Tips to make your laptop ergonomic

-Jill McNitt
CS Student Support Team

Leave a comment below »

  1. Tyler Wishall September 22, 2014

    This was probably my biggest concern with becoming serious about transcribing. Getting a plug-in keyboard sounds like a great alternative to paying for a bulky desktop computer.

  2. Elizabeth Houle October 25, 2014

    And let us not forget the heat from the CPU that turns your left wrist into a brisket! I finally picked up a cheap wrist rest with enough gel inside to partially protect my wrist. Agony!

  3. bonnie October 28, 2014

    no sure how to comment on this blog yet and I am to begin my career step education the first of November. my question to you seasoned MT’s out there. I have a typing speed of 61 wpm. is that good for a newbie?

  4. Instructor Alesa Little November 04, 2014

    Bonnie, a typing speed of 61 wpm is great starting out! Many graduates are at around 60-65 wpm when they graduate, so if you are already at that speed, you are doing very well. Please don’t hesitate to contact us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) if you have any further questions. Thank you!

  5. Lillian Desoto May 24, 2015

    I went through the pains of laptop.  Then a friend (professional computer whiz) saw how I worked and showed me how to sit correctly.  I pulled out my middle desk drawer, replaced it with a board and placed my laptop flat with keyboard out.  I plugged in a 17” TV screen that I had and bought a connector from a surplus store for 2$.  Now, I am comfortable and love my new set up.  Thank you for this wonderful information.

  6. Career Step May 26, 2015

    Glad you’ve found a new setup that works, Lillian! Happy transcribing! =)



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