Are Children Safe In Your Waiting Room?

Flu season is here. It’s time to stop and ask yourself: “how safe are my youngest patients while in my waiting room?” 

Infection control in the physician’s office is an important component of patient care and should be considered a priority by health care providers, patients, and parents. 

Young children who spend long periods of time in clinic waiting rooms are at a tremendous risk of contracting an infection.

The good news is simple steps can be taken to help lower or even eliminate their risk altogether. 

The first step to an effective prevention program is identifying the potential sources. 

The Usual Suspects.

Kids with a runny nose, diarrhea, or who are in diapers present a huge risk as “source patients.” Children with open wounds or skin lesions will drastically increase the risk of spreading an infection. We also know children are not known for their superior hygiene. 

Child's dirty hand holding some small toys.

And don’t forget that some organisms can survive on surfaces and toys. These resilient buggers love stuffed animals. These fuzzy toys are notoriously difficult to decontaminate effectively and kids love to cuddle with them. 

The bottom line is a room full of sick kids is an infection waiting to happen. So what can you do to mitigate the risk? 

Stuffed owl toy in tree.
Consider removing stuffed animals from your waiting room. Fuzzy toys are notoriously difficult to decontaminate effectively.

Balancing Your Priorities.

Does the benefit of having an office in which kids are free to play with each other, share toys, practice social skills, and generally have fun, outweigh infection control? You’ll have to answer this question after you assess the needs of your patients and the level of care that your office provides. 

Granted, there is no way to provide absolutely bullet proof infection control, but there a few steps you can take to reduce the risk.

Infection control requires a three-pronged attack!

1- Office Design.

Sometimes the best solution is to eliminate it altogether. Some clinics have eliminated their waiting room and place patients directly into exam rooms as they arrive. This reduces the amount of time immunocompromised or contagious patients share a communal space.  

Visits should be scheduled for different times of the day or separate time periods reserved for drop-in visits and routine appointments. 

If you must have a waiting room, consider the following:

  • Ensure that handwashing sinks with adjacent soap and disposable towel dispensers are in good working order and provide waterless hand hygiene products in all patient care areas.
  • Display signs and place reading materials to educate patients about respiratory etiquette, i.e. wash your hands after blowing your nose.
  • Carpeting should be avoided in both examination and waiting rooms. It’s just not worth the hassle of keeping disinfectant in these high-risk areas.
  • Ventilation for new or renovated medical offices should provide a minimum of six air exchanges per hour to ensure safe air quality.

Waiting Room
A well-designed office will strengthen your infection control program.

2- Office Policies Regarding Toys.

Minimize the risk of exposure by either:

  • Removing toys for waiting rooms, unless children can be properly supervised and appropriate sanitation practices are feasible.
  • Ask parents to bring the child’s personal toys and avoid sharing them with other children.

Child playing alone.
By having parents bring the child’s personal toys, the child’s risk of exposure drops dramatically.

If you absolutely want to provide toys make sure that they are easy to clean. This means you should:

  • Find toys that have smooth, solid surfaces without small pieces or crevices. 
  • Avoid stuffed, fabric or plush toys like the plague, they are near impossible to sanitize without an extraordinary effort. 
  • Ask parents to supervise their child while they play with office toy.
  • Place “used” toy in designated bins and remove them from circulation until they are properly sanitized. 

Treat big toys like office furniture and sanitize routinely or when soiled.  

Disinfect toys with a 1:100 water and bleach solution or wash with soap and water and air dry. If time is an issue try sanitizing toys in a dishwasher.

A group of children playing together.
It is possible to create a safe communal area for children, with the proper resources and procedures in place.

3- Parental Cooperation.

The most important part of this solution is cooperative parents. Post messages around the office to encourage parents to keep children with signs of infection away from other children. 

Educate parents as they sign in about your updated toy policies and the reasons behind the change. Knowing the gravity of the changes and why they are in place, parents are more likely to cooperate.

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Do you have any tips for making waiting rooms a safer place? Share your thoughts and comments on our Facebook or Google+ page