Prevent Infection with Face Masks in the Waiting Room

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Prevent Infection with Face Masks in the Waiting Room

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face masks in waiting room

The flu season is in high gear and the coronavirus is spreading. Your office can be ground zero for passing germs. Don’t let worries about angering patients stop you from asking patients to don face masks in the waiting room. Here are the steps to communicate and implement an office policy to prevent disease spread.

The CDC has your back with recommending face masks and other precautions that will stop illnesses spreading in your practice. Here are the actions you should take now to protect your staff and patients.

Use Masks, Communication, Screening as First Lines of Defense

Many people don’t like wearing face masks because they’re uncomfortable, but they do offer a line of infection prevention. Promoting face masks in the waiting room shouldn’t be as daunting as provider enrollment! Look at it as a matter of clear communication between your practice, your employees, and your patients.

The CDC recommends “During periods of increased acute respiratory infections in the community, coughing patients and anyone suspected of having influenza should wear a mask at all times until they are isolated in a private room.” There are limitations to face masks, however. Considering that individuals are contagious a day before they become symptomatic, a cough or sneeze from an otherwise seemingly healthy individual could be as contagious as your patient with full blown symptoms.

Promote Face Masks In The Waiting Room

To promote patients using masks and speed them into private areas, the CDC suggests you take these steps:

  • Provide masks. Place boxes of surgical masks at the check-in windows where patients can easily access them. Offer them to healthy patients and workers, too, as a line of defense against illness.  In fact, healthcare workers should wear a mask “when entering the room of a patient with suspected or confirmed influenza. Remove the facemask when leaving the patient’s room, dispose of the facemask in a waste container, and perform hand hygiene,” states the CDC.
  • Politely request patients wear masks. If a patient presents with symptoms, ask them politely to put on a surgical mask. Be sure to show the patient how to properly put it on. Many patients will comply. If your patient refuses, tell them it’s your practice policy to protect other patients and workers from infection. If they still refuse, do your best to triage and move that patient quickly into an examination room.
  • Post signs. Post signs, posters, and other visuals in strategic locations — in appropriate languages — that communicate to patients how to use face masks to cover nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing, and where to dispose of the contaminated masks. Include cough etiquette and hand hygiene education on your signs as well.
  • Pre-screen patients. During check-in, ask each patient about any current respiratory or flu-like symptoms. Be careful to note any obvious signs such as incessant coughing and sneezing.

Schedule, Sanitize, Triage Offer Additional Protection

Masks are only one line of defense in infection prevention. There are a number of other ways that you can protect your employees and other patients from symptomatic patients, including:

  • Selective scheduling. When patients with respiratory illness call to schedule same day appointments, try to schedule them in at the end of the day to reduce exposure to other patients.
  • Provide hand sanitizer. There aren’t sinks in waiting rooms! Place hand sanitizer dispensers at all check-in counters, waiting room tables, the examination room, and other various locations so patients and employees have ample opportunity to sanitize often.
  • Triage quickly. Promptly move patients — especially symptomatic ones—out of the main waiting room into the exam room to separate them from other patients and lessen the chance of spreading germs. Consider moving acutely symptomatic patients directly to an exam room or bring them through a back door if the option is available.
  • Sanitize often. Diligently wipe down surfaces of chairs, tables, doorknobs, counters, and kids’ toys with antibacterial cleaner. Don’t offer stuffed toys in a pediatric waiting room.
  • Hand washing. Proper hand washing is a first line of defense in infection prevention. Encourage and educate employees and patients on proper hand washing technique and frequency.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has some environmental measures you can take to boost your infection prevention success:

  • Keep distance of ≥1m between patients.
  • Keep spaces well ventilated through natural (e.g. open windows) or mechanical ventilation.
  • Clean soiled and/or frequently touched surfaces regularly.

Realize Masks Protect Against Large Particles

Remember, masks alone won’t stop the spread of the flu or other viruses.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that “face masks by design do not seal tightly to the wearer’s face.” Because they allow unfiltered air to easily flow around the sides of the face mask, and the materials used aren’t regulated for their ability to filter particles, it’s possible for small particles to pass through or around the face mask, suggests OSHA.

Because they aren’t considered respiratory protection against inhaling smaller particles, they likely aren’t 100% effective at containing the particles, either.

But they do help! While respirators work better for smaller airborne particles, surgical masks function to reduce the number of larger particles introduced into the room when symptomatic patients talk, sneeze, or cough.


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