Respiratory season, or flu season, is a dreaded time for patients and healthcare providers alike. The risk of becoming infected with a respiratory infection such as influenza is highest from October-February, and during this time, 5%-20% of people contract a virus. For immunocompromised patients, it is especially crucial to take preventative measures during this time - even in a supposedly clean environment such as the office of medical practice.
As a healthcare provider, it is your responsibility to maintain your practice as a clean and safe environment for providers and patients. For imaging practices, this is especially pertinent as patients need to physically enter the office to get images taken. As the patients receiving imaging and treatment are typically those who are already immunocompromised, it is vital that they can receive imaging without exposing themselves to the dangers of flu season. To ensure that your practice maintains a safe environment for patients during the respiratory season, consider these preparatory and preventative measures.
The simplest and most effective measure to prevent infection from the respiratory season is receiving the annual flu vaccination. For medical practices, achieving high flu vaccination rates is vital in preventing respiratory infections such as influenza. Not only is this crucial to protect patients, but also to protect the physicians in your practice. For this reason, practices should require their physicians to receive their annual influenza vaccinations and encourage patients to do the same - especially if they are immunocompromised or dealing with a chronic condition.
Practices can encourage patients and physicians to receive their vaccination by offering flu shots in the office or providing people with the information and resources they need to receive the vaccination elsewhere. Educating patients about the benefits of the vaccine is also helpful, as those with compromised immune systems may be hesitant or concerned about potential exposure. The more people that are vaccinated, the less likely it is that infection will occur within the walls of your practice or be brought into your practice. As a result, patients and providers can be kept safe and healthy during the respiratory season.
Respiratory Hygiene and Etiquette
In addition to getting vaccinated, there are many hygiene and etiquette practices that providers and patients should be performing to ensure safety during flu season. Some standard precautions include using tissues when you sneeze or cough, taking patients’ temperature when they visit in person, and washing your hands frequently. All of these actions are standard practices to ward off germs but should be especially practiced during flu season.
Beyond standard precautions, droplet precautions should be taken to avoid the spread of respiratory infections further. Patients and providers should wear face masks if they are symptomatic or susceptible to respiratory infections in order to keep themselves and others safe. Conveniently, wearing masks is now standard practice in most buildings, particularly medical practices, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Healthcare providers should also create space between patients and isolate symptomatic patients. It is also crucial that equipment, medical devices, and shared rooms are frequently sanitized and cleaned between patients and providers. Imaging departments, in particular, are full of equipment and tools, such as X-rays, MRIs, and more that must come into contact with patient skin, so it is crucial that these are cleaned between patients to ensure the safety of all. For this reason, any room or object that has come into contact with patient skin or in a droplet radius must be carefully sanitized.
By communicating clear hygiene protocols and expectations, patients and providers will be more likely to take preventative measures during flu season. It can also be beneficial to provide masks and hand sanitizers throughout the building to ensure that resources are available and being used.
Another practical method of preparing your practice, particularly your imaging department in the respiratory season, is by minimizing exposure as much as possible. While vaccinations and basic hygiene precautions are preventative, they cannot guarantee protection from the flu. Even while taking precautions, patients and providers are coming into contact with germs and exposure while in the office.
One way to minimize exposure is to ask sick or immunocompromised people to stay at home, but germs can still be spread without one’s knowledge. Instead, the best way to minimize exposure within your practice is to have only necessary personnel in the physical office. This may seem impossible for an imaging department, where patients must be in the office to receive an image and providers to conduct it, but telemedicine has made this possible. While it is true that some procedures and visits must be in person to use equipment and take images, most other patient-provider interactions can be conducted virtually.
Aside from necessary imaging appointments where equipment and in-person interaction is required, patients and providers can conduct virtual visits via a telemedicine platform. Once images have been taken during an initial in-person visit, providers can then upload patient images and data to their telemedicine platform. Both parties can then access and view these images and carry out further visits remotely, whether a consultation, second opinion, prescription, or basic communication.
Through telemedicine, patients can still receive the care they need through meetings with their healthcare provider, without the risk of exposing themselves to infection during flu season. Once initial images have been taken, there is no longer a need for patients and providers to meet face-to-face. Instead, they can have an equally efficient and productive visit virtually, significantly minimizing the potential exposure to the flu.
Even outside of flu season, telemedicine is a highly convenient and beneficial means of virtual interaction between patients and providers. Both parties can seamlessly meet - with no commute, risk of infection, waiting room, or the loss of physical images.
Telemedicine Is the Tool of Respiratory Season (And Beyond)
The respiratory season is unpleasant for anyone but is especially concerning for those living with compromised immune systems or chronic conditions. The risk of infection is higher and more harmful for these individuals, yet they still need to expose themselves to such risks to get the medical care they need. While vaccinations, masks, and washing hands can help reduce the risk of contracting a virus during this season, it is still a concern.
Fortunately, with telemedicine, patients and providers can meet year-round without any risk of exposure or infection. Once initial images have been taken, there is no further reason for patients to expose themselves to the risk of infection. With the right telemedicine platform, patients can meet with their providers virtually, receiving the same care as if they were to meet in person. As a result, patients can stay safe during flu season, with a more convenient and efficient means of receiving the healthcare they need than ever before.
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