There's No Such Thing As a Sterile Waiting Room
Sue Hubbard, M.D.
I read an interesting advice column in my daily newspaper and just had to comment! Someone had written in to suggest that doctors needed to stop providing magazines and toys for people in the waiting room. Her feeling was that if doctors stopped furnishing these items, patients would bring their own, reducing the spread of germs. The columnist thought this sounded like a good idea and thanked the reader for such a great suggestion.
I had to re-read the piece; I couldn't believe someone would suggest that doctors have empty waiting rooms! Have we gone overboard with "germ fears"? I understand the need to wash your hands, to try and keep your hands away from your face, to cover your mouth when coughing, etc. But taking magazines, newspapers, toys and books out of waiting rooms seems a little extreme.
There are also similar items in the waiting rooms of my dentist, lawyer, accountant and hairdresser, but no one is suggesting that these professions "sterilize" their waiting rooms and common areas.
While I agree that it's important to keep waiting rooms clean, especially in a doctors' office (where not everyone is sick), there's no way to keep any common area totally germ-free. Furthermore, magazines and books are not the only objects that may harbor germs. What about chairs, doorknobs, tabletops, counter tops, glass fish tanks, even the floor? There's simply no way to keep a waiting area entirely germ-free, even with good cleaning.
At my office, we're very conscious about keeping the office clean to reduce the spread of germs. Our housekeeping staff mop the floors and wipe the surfaces between morning and afternoon patients.
To try making an office germ-free is as impossible as making a grocery store, a department store, library or school sterile. It's just a fact of life that we're all exposed to germs.
If you (as a patient) are "afraid" to read a magazine at your physician's office, by all means bring your own. For many parents, however, a trip to the pediatrician's office is difficult enough without having to lug their own stash of toys and books. I have sweet moms who don't even remember to bring diapers or wipes, as they're just trying to get to their appointment. Facing an empty waiting room while trying to entertain three children waiting for their doctor would seem like torture to me.
Getting sick is never fun, but germs are ubiquitous. Don't sweat the small stuff; remember there is a bigger picture.
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