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A Germ-free Office?

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I was just reading an interesting newspaper column in one of the advice columns carried in my daily newspaper. I just had to comment!  The writer had written in to suggest that doctor’s offices needed to change their practice of having magazines and toys for those in the waiting room. Her feeling was that if doctors would discontinue having magazines in their offices, then patients would bring their own periodicals and that this would then reduce the spread of germs. The columnist also thought this sounded like a good idea and thanked the writer for such a great suggestion.

I had to re-read the column as I really could not believe that someone would suggest that doctors should have empty waiting rooms!!!   Have we just gone overboard with “germ fears”?  I understand the need to wash your hands, and 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 a waiting room seems a little extreme.

There are also similar items in the waiting room of my dentist, lawyer, accountant, hairdresser etc.  I guess there could also be germs in those offices too, but no one is suggesting that these professions “sterilize” their waiting rooms and common areas.

While I agree it is important to try and keep waiting rooms clean, especially in a doctors’ office (where not everyone is even sick), there is no way to keep any common area totally germ free. The magazines and books are not the only objects that may harbor germs. What about the chairs, the door knobs, the table tops, the counter tops, the fish tank glass, even the floor?  There is just not any way to keep the area entirely germ free, even with good cleaning.

In my office we are very conscious about trying to keep the office clean to reduce the spread of germs. Our housekeeping staff that mop the floors and wipe the surfaces between morning and afternoon patients.

To try and make an office germ free is as impossible as making a grocery store, a department store, a library or even a school germ free. It is just a fact of life that we will all be exposed to germs. To suggest that discontinuing the long standing tradition of having reading material in the waiting room of a doctor’s office in order to decrease the spread of germs just doesn’t seem to make common sense to me.

If you (as a patient) are “afraid” to read a magazine at your physician’s office, then by all means bring your own. But to take away the books and magazines from everyone is just a bit too much.

For many parents a trip to the pediatrician’s office is difficult enough without having to lug your own stash of toys and books. I have sweet moms who don’t even remember to bring diapers or wipes as they are just trying to get to their appointment.  Arriving to an empty waiting room to try and entertain 3 children waiting on their doctor seems like torture to me. Schools are full of germs too, but we send our kids there to learn (and occasionally get sick too).

Getting sick is never fun, but germs are ubiquitous.  Don’t sweat the small stuff; remember there is a bigger picture.

What do you think? I would love to hear from you! Feel free to leave your comments below.

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