As coronavirus (COVID-19) cases continue to be confirmed throughout the United States, businesses and people are being encouraged not to panic, but to take precautions designed to stay healthy and to avoid contaminating others if unknowingly infected.
The following basic steps can help protect you, your patients, and your staff.
1. Clean all hard surfaces daily, if not hourly
Routinely disinfect all frequently touched surfaces in your office, such as your front desk area and workstations in the exam rooms. The CDC recommends using the same cleaning agents to combat coronavirus that are usually used in these areas and following the directions on the label. It is best to provide your staff with disposable wipes so these surfaces can be wiped down before or after each use.
Spray faucets, doorknobs and light switches every couple hours with disinfectant. If someone who is coughing or sneezing enters your office, clean these items immediately after they leave.
2. Make a conscious effort to avoid touching your face
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands. It is also important to wash your hands after touching any of these areas in case you are unknowingly infected with coronavirus to avoid contaminating staff members or patients. If you see younger patients touching their face, remind them not to and offer some hand sanitizer.
3. Require all visitors to disinfect
Place a bottle of hand sanitizer at your front desk and have staff ask patients to use it upon arrival. You can even include a lighthearted sign that says, “Please disinfect to protect,” or put a fun bottle holder around the sanitizer.
4. Tell patients with symptoms to stay home and offer alternative treatment options
When scheduling appointments or sending reminder texts or emails about upcoming appointments, encourage patients and parents of younger patients to check their wellness before coming to the office. If anyone scheduled to come to your office (including younger siblings) has any coronavirus symptoms or a temperature over 100, tell them to stay home.
With today’s technology, some issues may be resolved without having the patient come to the office. Consider offering consultations over video chat or have parents or patients submit photos of their teeth or braces through text or email for evaluation. Just be sure whatever method you use is HIPAA compliant to avoid a completely different problem.
5. Cough into your sleeve
Sneezing or coughing yourself? Direct it into the crook of your elbow to avoid leaving germs on your hands and make it less likely for them to be transferred to other surfaces.
6. Check with your business insurance provider
If small businesses are mandated by the government to shut down at some point to help slow the spread of coronavirus, your business insurance may provide coverage to help alleviate potential financial losses. Policies vary when it comes to what situations are covered or exempt, so find out now and have a plan in place in case you have to stop seeing patients for a period of time.
7. Wash hands upon returning to the office
If you go out for lunch, run errands, or leave the office for any other reason, wash your hands thoroughly upon return to keep yourself from rubbing germs on your face or contaminating staff members or patients.
Wet your hands with warm water and lather them with soap. Don’t miss the backs of your hands, between your fingers or under your nails. Make sure to scrub for at least 20 seconds, and dry them with a clean towel or let them air dry.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers, which should be rubbed in for about 20 seconds, can also work, but the gel must contain at least 60% alcohol.
8. Keep your distance
Experts are encouraging everyone to maintain a distance of 6 feet from other people. Obviously that is not possible when you or your staff are examining and treating patients. However, you can encourage people to increase their personal space in your office by spacing out the chairs in your reception area or allowing them to wait in exam rooms or other places in your office.
9. Avoid hand contact
As an orthodontist, you want to be approachable, but you may want to forgo the handshakes and high fives for the time being. This will keep you from potentially transmitting germs to your patients and staff or receiving them. Be even more vigilant about using your elbow or holding a paper towel in your hand when opening restroom doors, and be sure to wash or sanitize your hands after pushing buttons on ATMs or elevators.
10. Wear masks, even between patients
While most surgical masks are too loose to prevent inhalation of the virus, wearing masks can help prevent the spread of the virus to others should you become infected. Rather than taking your mask off at the end of an exam to speak with the patient, leave it on to reduce the risk of contaminating them should you happen to have the virus but are still asymptomatic.
Taking care of patients is what you have dedicated your life to, and providing them a clean, safe environment is nothing new in your practice. Just taking these few extra steps will help ensure your patients, staff—and you—stay as protected as possible.
If you or members of your team are experiencing symptoms that might be contributed to COVID-19, please check the CDC website and your local health department for advice about when, how, and where to be tested.