The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined “normal” for almost every business in the United States, but medical practices have been especially affected. Many offices have had to put creative strategies in place to keep patients and staff safe. Your furniture can play a role in infection prevention – here are some suggestions to consider that are effective and cost sensitive:
Take Care of the Caregivers
Caegivers have been on the front lines of this pandemic, often working long hours and seeing very sick patients. It’s important to give your valued employees a place to rest and recharge during a busy shift. Provide comfortable seating, along with tables and chairs for a quick meal. We recommend that staff rooms be totally separated from patient areas for safety and security reasons, and with access to a restroom, a place to store personal belongings and a place to take a break and eat.
Making sure a break area is appealing can help prevent burnout and fatigue – and can help prevent medical errors. If your space allows for it, offer access to daylight, natural views or the outdoors which can help users relax. Don’t forget to include all staff –Maintenance, Office workers and Cleaners (among others) are working hard during this stressful time.
Infection control is always important, but making sure that shared surfaces are disinfected has become top priority in medical offices. Using harsh disinfectants can take a toll on materials like wood and fabric, causing them to degrade quickly and fail. We recommend following the cleaning guidelines on your chosen products carefully, and ensure that cleaning is followed up with a clear water rinse to remove potentially harmful residue. NBF can help you ensure that your cleaner will work with the material you are choosing on new furniture.
We strongly recommend staying away from fabric in any medical space, because it is porous and can trap and hold bacteria deep within fibers. This makes it almost impossible to fully clean between uses. It is worth considering replacing wood or fabric items with more durable, cleanable options made from vinyl and metal. These materials are far more durable, can be easily cleaned and have a higher resistance to chemical disinfectants, ensuring a longer useful life. NBF has a complete guide to materials for healthcare spaces HERE.
Rethink Common Areas
Waiting rooms are the gateway to your office, and can give a positive first impression. Dailly use by many patients and families mean they are also a place where infections can be passed from person to person. Retihnking how these areas are used can help keep everyone safe.
Communicate new policies ahead of time so that your patients are ready – that might mean that patients call before entering, or that they don’t arrive more than 5 minutes ahead of their appointment. Masks and sanitizer should be made available and placed in high-touch areas.
Some offices are eliminating waiting rooms altogether during this time, and moving patients directly to an exam room to wait for a provider. If that is not possible, some easy changes can be made in the waitng room to help with preventing infection. That may mean removing chairs, or blocking off seats to ensure that safe distances are kept between patients. Once a chair has been used, you might put a laminated tag on the seat notifying others that the chair should not be used until it can be sanitized.
Many offices are working to increase their telehealth capabilities during this time which especially fits the needs of many patients who have chronic conditions or need follow-up care and are uncomfortable leaving home and risking infection. Seeing patients remotely (where appropriate) offers greater safety for everyone – and it can also save time, resources (including PPE) and have a positive impact on the environment.
Make sure that patients are able to be seen and monitored remotely and that any temporary telemedicine spaces meet current HIPPA requirements. Caregivers might need extra equipment (like cameras or microphones) and a comfortable, private space to work.
Managing a medical practice during a global pandemic is a challenge – there is a responsibility to ensure safety for your patients, your employees and the community. Making small, inexpensive changes now can have a large payoff down the road in increasing patient and staff satisfaction.