Nova Scotia·Health Hacks

How a trip to the doctor's office can make you sicker

Waiting rooms and doctors’ offices can be a hotbed for all sorts of nasty bacteria. But a Halifax health-care consultant says you can avoid getting sick if you’re careful.

Waiting rooms can be a ‘sea of pestilence,’ says health-care consultant

Health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton says waiting rooms are a hotbed for bacteria. (Shutterstock )

This is part of a series from CBC's Information Morning where Halifax health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton discusses her "health hacks" — ways to make your experience with the health-care system better.

It might sound like an oxymoron: getting sicker after visiting the doctor's office.

But according to health-care consultant Mary Jane Hampton, waiting rooms can be a hotbed for bacteria.

"The doctor's waiting room is a sea of pestilence," Hampton told CBC's Information Morning.

It's not because the rooms are unclean, said Hampton. When a patient is going into a room full of people who may be coughing, sneezing or having fevers, it opens them up to all sorts of sicknesses.

"When you're in a doctor's office where you have a population of people who are already heavier with a viral load than you would have in other public spaces, there is a multiplier effect of the amount of bacteria and viruses that are just lurking there," she said.

Mary Jane Hampton is a Halifax-based health-care consultant. (Robert Short/CBC)

The worst surfaces are doorknobs, chairs and toy areas. 

And while many doctor's offices have done away with toy areas, Hampton said there are still some that have a corner where children can entertain themselves while they wait.

"Don't play with those toys. It's yucky stuff," she said. "Bring your own toys."

She also suggested that people bring their own books or magazines instead of leafing through the ones at the doctor's office.

But waiting areas aren't the only places where patients can pick up unwanted germs, said Hampton.

Your doctor's clothing could be home to all sorts of viruses.

Hampton says doctors' neckties are covered in bacteria — and most health providers don't clean them. (iStock)

"Doctors who wear ties have been determined to be basically wearing decoration around their necks that are loaded with some pretty nasty bacteria," she said. 

"In one study that was done, 70 percent of health providers who wore neckties said that they actually never clean them."

Many doctors also wear lanyards with an ID card attached. Hampton said they're not as bad as ties, but should also be regularly disinfected.

And while there are germs lurking in seemingly every corner of your doctor's office, Hampton's suggestion for avoiding illness is simple: "Wash your hands."

"Hand washing is honestly one of the best protections against getting sick in any public space, but particularly in a waiting room," she said. "It's a really good thing to do."