April 11, 2011

Has this ever happened to you? You enter your doctor’s exam room in which there is a small vinyl-covered exam table with a sheet of wide white tissue paper pulled from the head of the table to the other end of the table, like a partially unrolled large toilet paper roll. But the protective tissue paper is never quite as wide as the table itself, leaving at least a couple of inches of the table on either side of the paper exposed to the numerous naked bodies that had been splayed on the table before you. Rarely do  you witness the change of tissue paper between the prior patient’s exit from the room and your entrance. Did your doctor’s office staff remember to change the protective paper? Did the prior patient have a contagious skin disease or was he on the receiving end of an unfortunate rectal exam? Disgusting, I know, but something to consider next time your skin (or clothing) comes in direct contact with the edge of the exam table. Another consideration: that tissue paper product that is supposed to separate you from the vinyl table doesn’t seem particularly impervious to bodily liquids.

And while we’re discussing skin contact, have your ever observed your doctor clean the blood pressure cuff before wrapping it around your arm? How many arms before your arm were squeezed and slowly released by that same cuff?

Most doctors wash their hands as soon as they enter the exam room. But then they touch you, followed by the instruments they use to look down your throat and into your ears, and then they touch you again. Sometimes they’ll open a drawer or cabinet to obtain a specimen jar or other necessary object. Then they hand the jar to you or  use the object on or in your body. Ever wonder how often the drawers and cabinet doors in the exam rooms are thoroughly cleaned with an appropriate cleanser (do you ever remember entering an exam room and smelling the tell-tale wiff of cleanser use?)? Remember, many people who occupied the exam room before you came to the doctor due to disease or another medical condition that may be spread in confined areas.

What about the chairs in your doctor’s waiting room? What unsightly bacteria and viruses are temporariy residing there before hitching a ride on or in your body? Not that the chairs in other public areas are any cleaner, but a doctor’s office is an area where the sick congregate.

We all know that your doctor needs to thoroughly wash his hands before examining you so that germs are not so easily spread, but it is just as important that you wash your hands (or use an alcohol-based waterless cleaner with at least a 60% concentration of alcohol) as soon as you exit your doctor’s office.

Don’t become paranoid when you need to visit your doctor’s office, just look out for your personal safety by insisting that proper infection control methods are used before and during your examination.

Be safe and be healthy so you’ll be happy!