Protection during flu season

Aug. 25, 2009
With the H1N1 (swine) flu virus at the highest pandemic level in the United States here are some suggestions designed to protect you, your staff, and your patients.

It's every doctor's mission to heal their patients, but sometimes patients get sick because of their visit to a doctor's office. Now, with the H1N1 (swine) flu virus at the highest pandemic level in the United States and around the world, it's unfortunately happening more than ever.

Doctors' offices can be breeding grounds for germs and infections. Patients, including adults and children, as well as office staff, are crowded together in small, often cramped spaces where germs can spread easily and quickly. It's imperative – with the onset of seasonal flus and the ongoing threat of swine flu – that the spread of germs be thwarted. But how? Especially when even the cleanest of offices are at risk every day?

Here are some suggestions designed to protect you, your staff, and your patients:

Wash your hands: It starts with you. Frankly, there's no such thing as washing your hands too often in a medical office situation. Ask your staff to wash their hands when they walk in the office, frequently throughout the day, after they’ve been in physical contact with patients, and again when they leave at night. And be sure to stock soap and plenty of alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Remind your patients to wash their hands: It may seem unusual to ask your patients to wash their hands when they walk in the door, but chances are they’ll thank you for doing so. Another option is to keep hand sanitizer both by the entrance to your office and at the sign-in desk. Staff can politely remind patients to make use of the sanitizer and explain that it's meant for their protection and the protection of others.

Point out the obvious: Doctors and/or office managers can meet with their staff and explain the measures they're taking to keep the office as germ-free as possible. It's imperative that common-sense actions be mentioned. That's to say that staff should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze and the tissue should be disposed of immediately after use. Hands should then be washed. Also, everyone should be made aware that if they feel sick, they should head home and, if they do have the flu, they should stay home until at least 24 hours after their fever breaks.

Buy and use keyboard covers: Computer keyboards are among the greatest hotbeds for germs, as they're touched by staff all day long. Keyboards can be tough to keep clean, but that's not the case with keyboard covers, which can be quickly and easily wiped clean and disinfected.

Don’t eat at your desk: If at all possible, staff shouldn't eat at the front desk. While eating, people touch their fingers to their eyes, nose and mouth, making it easy for germs to spread to clipboards, keyboards, telephones, fax machines, appointment cards, etc.

Use a disinfectant: Soaps, antimicrobials and other products are vital when attempting to fight the spread of germs. SpectraSan24, for example, is the only EPA-registered disinfectant proven to provide 24 hours of residual effectiveness. SpectraSan24 has no harsh chemical smell, will not trigger allergic reactions or asthma attacks, has the EPA’s lowest toxicity rating (IV) and, most importantly, it kills bacteria, viruses and fungi, including MRSA, VRE, SARS, E Coli, salmonella and Influenza A (swine flu/H1N1). Already widely used in schools, hospitals and in childcare environments, it's safe to use in and around the office, on hard, non-porous surfaces, including equipment.

"The challenge facing doctors in their own offices is greater than ever," says Dr. Art Gendelman, MD, and executive vice president, clinical services, Carespring Health Care, in Ohio "According to the CDC, more than 2 million people are afflicted annually with a seasonal flu virus, with more than 250,000 hospitalized and as many as 36,000 dying. As a result of the swine flu pandemic, more people than ever are aware of and concerned about the spread of viruses. Patients at a doctor's office want to feel safe. Thus, it’s important to keep them protected and also to let them know you're doing everything possible to do so. Making them -- as well as your staff and yourself -- part of that process will go a long way towards accomplishing that goal."