Standing up desks for clinics – an upstanding idea?

Standing desks seem to be an ever-growing trend. Until recent years these were something either unheard of, because ‘Don’t all desks stand up?’, or perhaps synonymous with a quirky Silicon Valley start up. Now, though, they’re seemingly popping up (excuse the pun) like wildfires.

I’ve had mine for nearly a year and a half, and in that time I’ve used it for, I would estimate, 80% of my General Practice clinics. Having one means I’m rarely sedentary at work, I feel more energetic, and my clinics become dynamic and engaging. I really couldn’t be without it.

I’m sure we’ve all heard a lot of the reasons you might want to use one – and we NHS employees have even been the subjects of some experimentation showing having a standing desk reducing sitting time at work, job performance, daily anxiety, quality of life and more (Edwardson et al., 2018). Beyond that, there is also some evidence standing can help with those office-related back pains (Agarwal et al., 2017).

You can probably tell from the amount I use mine that I really do love it, even when I worked in hospital, you’d normally find me stood at a COW (computer on wheels) rather that sat in a dingy office. I have always felt frustrated with the amount of potential sedentary time in our General Practice roles, especially given this is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and all-case mortality (Wilmot et al., 2012).

Now, with new-aged telemedicine many patients are, of course, completely unaware that I’m standing – but for me being able to stand whilst on the phone really helps me engage, feel energetic and not feel like I’m in a glorified call centre. For me, this is similar to the difference between going for a walk with a friend versus sitting in their kitchen for 3 hours.

When, however, I have a face-to-face appointment the experience is almost universally positive. Just from today I’ve had patients say, ‘I need one of those’, ‘That’s such a good idea’, ‘Do you think that would help me too?’. People are complimentary and impressed, which is always nice to hear, but they’re also inquisitive and interested – they start asking questions about the benefits of standing and walking, which opens up conversations about nutrition, weight and all other things lifestyle.

It’s such a wonderful way of promoting physical activity and initiating conversations about activity in a totally positive manner.

Beyond that, I feel it really helps with the flow, rapport, and how engaged I feel in my clinics. I still have seats in my room and sit opposite my patient to talk to them before standing to examine or check the notes. Not tied to my computer, I might examine whilst we speak and I don’t end up being tempted to type as we talk. Some patients even ask to stand, seeing that the option is there.

When it comes to prescribing, doing a fit note, or printing a patient leaflet I’ll stand up and start back on my computer – this is great for the flow too – it’s a signal to the patient and myself that we’re coming to an end. Coupled with suggesting ‘whilst I’m doing your prescriptions, why don’t you get your coat on?’ it means a smooth transition to the end of our consultation.

All in all, I couldn’t do without mine – from the personal benefits to health, and the increased enjoyment and energy I feel in my clinics, a standing desk certainly elevates my work satisfaction and I’d encourage anyone tempted to try to just go for it.

If you’d like to find out more, and become part of the growing network of Active Practices, head over to the physical activity hub.

About the writer

Dr Toby Haseler, GPST3 in London.