Improving the Patient Experience Starts in the Waiting Room

By Brandon Zauche

Consider the following scenarios that occur when people enter a doctor’s office. Patients open the door to the waiting room. They fill out paperwork using a pen provided by the receptionist. Maybe they make a payment on the office’s smart terminal. Then they sit down to wait, skimming through the magazines lying on a table.

What do all these activities have in common? In each situation, patients are interacting with surfaces that can contain disease-spreading microbes—all before they even enter the exam room. Waiting rooms can be a major contributor to infections, with patients waiting an average of 20 minutes before seeing a doctor, according to the Medical Group Management Association. In fact, the CDC reports that one in 31 hospital patients has at least one healthcare-associated infection (HAI) on any given day.

While this may seem scary, there are ways healthcare facilities can help prevent the spread of HAIs. One helpful tactic is using antimicrobial-treated products.

What is antimicrobial technology?

Antimicrobial technology can make surfaces less inhabitable to bacteria. This technology takes the form of agents that can be applied to products either during manufacturing or afterward as a protective coating. Antimicrobial protection can accomplish many things, including:

  • Promote cleanliness—The technology can eliminate surface odors and stains caused by microbes, creating a cleaner and more pleasant doctor’s visit.
  • Prevent colonization—Antimicrobial agents can prevent bacteria from colonizing on a product’s surface.
  • Replace abrasive cleaners—With antimicrobial technology, staff will no longer need to use overly abrasive cleaners that contain harmful chemicals. This extends the operational life of products by reducing degradation of plastics and other surface materials.

The impact of antimicrobial technology

Antimicrobial technology is already being used within healthcare settings on surfaces that include mobile charts, surgical drapes, medical curtains, and hospital beds. Good candidates for antimicrobial technology in a care setting are anything that can be considered “high-contact” items—and this consideration should extend into the waiting room, which is filled with such items. Equipping waiting rooms with antimicrobial technology will shield patients from disease-spreading microbes, helping to keep them safe.

Another benefit of investing in antimicrobial technology is the chance to improve patient perception. Through good communication, including materials like signage, brochures, and mailings, healthcare providers can help patients understand that their facility has invested in antimicrobial technology and is therefore providing the best care possible—even in the waiting room. This helps patients trust their preferred healthcare facility even more, knowing they can seek care with less fear of infection.

Layering protection to keep patients safe  

While antimicrobial technology has numerous benefits, no single prevention method will eliminate the spread of HAIs. It is best to utilize layers of protection to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria at every endpoint. In addition to using antimicrobial-treated products and equipment as often as possible, facilities can increase their protection by:

  • Following guidelines—Healthcare facilities can limit the spread of bacteria and disease by following infection prevention guidelines from the CDC and other regulatory organizations.
  • Offering wellness stations—Facilities can offer stations for patient and visitor use that include tissues, face masks, hand sanitizer, and/or handwashing sinks.
  • Maintaining and enforcing policies—Healthcare organizations should enforce regular handwashing policies for staff.
  • Educating patients—Through posters and brochures, providers can educate their patients on the spread of disease to encourage better prevention practices.
  • Designating space—Hospitals and healthcare facilities should consider designating space in waiting areas for those who are sick vs. those who are visiting the facility for a wellness visit.

Patients go to care facilities to get treated for an illness and should feel safe while they are there. From their first step through the door, patients put their full trust in the doctors and staff around them to prioritize their health. This should include not only treating their current illnesses but also preventing new risks. While health systems make great efforts to keep patients safe, the waiting room is an area that’s more overlooked than it should be—and one where antimicrobial treatment at checkout stations and on payment terminals can help.

Brandon Zauche is an account executive with Ingenico.