Experts Say These Are the 8 Grossest Spots in Your Doctor's Office
Avoid these germy areas and you won't leave your appointment sicker than when you walked in.
It's safe to assume that many of the people visiting a doctor's office on any given day are there because they're sick. So, it makes perfect sense that doctors' offices are some of the germiest places around. But we don't want you to leave your appointment sicker than when you arrived! So, we consulted with doctors and other experts to find out exactly where the grossest spots are in your doctor's office, so you can avoid them, at best, or obsessively wash your hands after using them, at worst. Here's what you need to know before your next visit.
The clipboard pen at the receptionist's desk is one of the germiest items in your doctor's office. In fact, a 2018 study conducted by InsuranceQutoes found that the pen is home to nearly 8 million bacteria colony forming units, or CFUs, per square inch. To put that into context, that's 46,158 times more germs than what's found on the average toilet seat.
"The doctor's pen is a huge no-no to touch—especially the one with the rubber grip,"says Lily Cameron, a domestic cleaning expert and supervisor at Fantastic Cleaners. "That one offers prime real estate for Staphylococcus aureus pathogen's 48-hour survival." Try to remember to bring your own pen to fill out the paperwork and if you need to borrow one from the office, make sure you wash your hands when you're done.
Many ubiquitous staples of medical offices are, more often than not, covered in bacteria, Cameron says—and that includes the stethoscope. "This standard piece of medical equipment often gets neglected when it comes to basic hygiene levels," she explains. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a stethoscope becomes significantly contaminated after a single physical examination—comparable to the contamination found in parts of the physician's dominant hand. The worst part? Some people's germs might be resistant to antibiotics, so the stethoscope can remain tainted even after sanitizing.
Doctor's white coats
Though we may associate the color white with all things clean, that's not the case when it comes to your doctor's lab coat. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research tested the contamination levels of these coats and found that although most had been washed in the past two weeks, they were still full of plenty of germs. The sides of the coats were the most highly contaminated parts, followed by the collar and pockets.
So what's lurking on these coats? According to the research, contaminants include Staphylococcus aureus, coagulase negative Staphylococci and Gram negative non fermenters, which can all cause a variety of infections. Not only that, but most of the Gram positive cocci were resistant to Penicillin, Erythromycin, and Clindamycin.
The waiting room
Where do sick people gather before seeing their doctor? The waiting room, of course! Between the seating and magazines, there are plenty of places for germs to lurk. "These areas are innocently, but regularly, touched by many people throughout the day and aren't cleaned after each individual use," says Daneille DonDiego, MD, a physician at Your Doctors Online. "Lots of sick people go in and out of the doctor's office every day, so [the] flu, common colds, and stomach viruses tend to be easy to pick up."
The chairs in both waiting rooms and examining rooms at your doctor's office are pretty germy. "Chairs are not sanitized throughout the course of daily use," says Michael Hall, MD, founder of the Hall Longevity Clinic. "Nor is the floor, which is very rarely mopped with Clorox."
With sick people walking in and out of the doctor's office all day, it makes sense that the door handles can get pretty gross. They're exposed to all types of hands, which in turn means all types of germs, says Syeda Amna Husain, MD, the founder of Pure Direct Pediatrics.
What's more, the handles are often overlooked when sanitizing rooms between patients, which allows the germs to stick around. "The most frequent pathogens are viruses that can linger for up to 48 hours," Husain says. Not only that, but the bathroom door handles specifically are frequently used by people who just tried to pee in a small cup to provide a urine sample. This should go without saying, but please, please wash your hands.
Some of the worst offenders of germ activity in the doctor's office are the toys in the waiting room—especially the stuffed animals. "Not only they are difficult to clean from common soil, but they also harbor thousands of germs," Cameron says. "Therefore, parents should be encouraged to bring their own toys when visiting the pediatrician with children."
Indoor air quality isn't always great in certain public places, including doctors' offices. "Common bacteria like staph and E.Coli and viruses like influenza and norovirus will spread and thrive through the air," says Tony Abate, vice president and chief technical officer at AtmosAir Solutions. "They can be spread by an infected person coughing or sneezing bacteria into the air, which is then recirculated by the HVAC/heating/air conditioning system."