Making the wait germ-free

CHAS swaps magazines for hand-held reading devices

Despite her efforts as a “clean freak, for sure” – daily scrubbings of her apartment, tea tree oil on the walls – Lois Spicer, 48, has been hospitalized twice with pneumonia this year.

So the waiting room at a medical clinic – populated by fellow patients and their attendant pathogens – could be a danger zone for the Spokane woman, whose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, makes her prone to infections.

The CHAS clinic on Market Street is testing a program that replaces one source of waiting-room germs – those stacks of worn magazines – with hand-held reading devices that are sterilized between each use.

Spicer checked out a Nook during her clinic visit last week and played a few games.

The Nook program has been a success, CHAS officials say, and they’re hoping to extend it to their other clinics.

“People are like, ‘Oh, I have to go back (to the exam room) already?’ They were having fun in the waiting room,” said Tenny Sanelli, administrator of CHAS’ Market Street clinic.

More importantly to the clinic, they were biding their time without picking up new germs from old magazines handled – and coughed on, sneezed on and flipped through with spit-wetted fingers – by patients before them.

The idea got its start in 2009, as CHAS and other medical facilities worked to cut the spread of germs amid the H1N1 – swine flu – pandemic, removing magazines and toys from waiting rooms and posters from exam room walls.

At CHAS, staffers stepped up their wipe-down efforts, disinfecting everything in the office they could, said Kelley McDonald, CHAS’ communications manager. What couldn’t be disinfected had to go – including the magazines.

That left patients with little to occupy their time in the sometimes-crowded waiting room.

A few months ago CHAS staffers started looking for devices that could be wiped down between users.

They choose the Nook because of its lower price compared with competitors and its security features, McDonald said – if someone takes off with one, staffers can shut it down remotely.

The devices are loaded with content for children and adults such as books, games and drawing applications. Content is added or deleted monthly, depending on patient feedback.

Patients are responding positively. Kids are playing educational games instead of complaining about the wait to their parents. Patients are reading short stories or inspirational quotes instead of worrying about their appointments.

“We really like it,” McDonald said. “I think we’ll spread it to our other clinics.”

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