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MANAGING THE OFFICE

Easy ways to make your medical office healthier

A medical practice focuses on patient health and well-being. Yet, too often, the workplace doesn’t promote staff health and well-being – and, in fact, detracts from it.

Why does it matter?

A healthy workplace encourages staff engagement and productivity, which has a direct impact on the profitability of the practice.

To evaluate your workplace, and make necessary improvements, take a close look at the following.

Office area

Functional and ergonomic-friendly workstations. High-tech is nice, and design may add a “wow” factor. But functionality and comfort are what matter most. For one thing, as Michelle Granelli, senior design director for Urban Chalet, an interior, landscape, and architectural design firm, points out, it shows staff they matter. Beyond that, however, are the health aspects of proper workstations. Staff members are less likely to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive motion disorders if their workspaces are properly designed and equipped.

Lighting. Because eyestrain can be disruptive and unpleasant, you want your staff to see things in the best possible light. Overhead fluorescent lighting is usually inadequate for office tasks. Make sure there is supplemental lighting; this can be under-bin/shelf lighting that is part of a workstation or a simple desk lamp. Check, too, to make sure that overhead lighting is properly positioned and does not create glare on computer screens. At the same time, make sure natural light from windows doesn’t make it difficult to see; adjustable blinds will remedy this situation.

Noise. Some noise, such as construction in the neighborhood, is beyond the practice’s control. However, other noise, like office music, may not be conducive to productivity. For one thing, not everyone has the same taste in music. Imagine working for eight hours listening to music you dislike. How would you feel about your job? Similarly, some people need a quiet environment to concentrate. Also consider placement of office equipment, like the copy machine. Is it right next to someone’s work area? If so, try and relocate it, especially if it gets frequent use.

Air circulation. What’s the air quality like in your office? Sick building syndrome is real, and it leads to worker health problems. Make sure enough fresh air is circulated throughout the office. Call in a heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) specialist for a checkup.

Clean workplace. Keeping the office clean will help keep germs at bay. This especially applies to common areas, such as the lunch or break room, reception area, copier corner, and restroom. Because some people have adverse reactions to dust, you’ll also want to make sure the office is dusted and vacuumed regularly. To reduce the spread of germs, encourage handwashing. How important is handwashing? Consider this fact shared by surgeon and bestselling author Atul Gawande in his book, “Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance”: “Bacterial counts on the hands range from five thousand to five million colony-forming units per square centimeter.”

Job tasks

Heavy lifting. Although office work at a medical practice doesn’t require heavy lifting on a regular basis, it does involve the occasional heavy supply carton. Establish a storage policy where heavy cartons are kept on the floor or items are removed and stored on shelves. Similarly, staff should not try to lift heavy office equipment, like copiers.

Safety issues. It should go without saying that smoke detectors should be checked regularly, and stairways and exits should remain accessible. But keep your eyes open to other possible safety hazards, such as torn carpets, broken tiles or uneven flooring. Are electrical circuits overloaded? What is kept near the stove in the kitchen area, assuming your lunchroom has a stove? Consider doing a walk-through of the office, with attention to safety. It could prove eye-opening.

Stress levels. On a scale of one to 10, how stressful is your workplace? Would your rating mirror that of your staff? Why not ask them? And, while you’re at it, you may want to ask them for suggestions on how to reduce stress levels. Sometimes, simple solutions can reduce worker stress, improving health, morale, and office efficiency.

Office equipment

Desks. Does each staff member have a designated workspace? If so, your office is likely to be healthier. Think about: A person with a cold blows her nose and puts her hand on the chair armrest. Enough said.

Computers. Every year, the flu and other viruses are transmitted via office computer keyboards and mice. Studies find a surprising number of bacteria on computer keyboards. In fact, one British study, which compared germs on office computer keyboards to germs found on toilet seats and bathroom door handles, found keyboards contained the most bacteria; one keyboard had 150 times the recommended limits on bacteria and was five times as dirty as one of the toilet seats. The message is clear: Clean and disinfect keyboards, and limit – better yet, avoid – sharing.

Phones. Avoid sharing office phones as well, as they also harbor germs. What if you have a communications center, with a switchboard-like setup, that requires coverage by multiple staff members? Make it a mandatory practice to wipe down the receiver and keypad between employee shifts.

Office policies

Sick days. With a healthy workplace as a goal, it is an ideal time to take a look at your sick day policies. Are they adequate for your staff, or are the days so limited that people frequently come to work when they should stay home? Sick staff members should not be at work. If someone shows up for work and she is clearly ill, praise her dedication and effort; then, send her home—without docking her pay or charging her for a sick day, if possible.

Smoking. Although most offices these days are smoke free, expanding the policy to include the practice’s campus will improve the employee, and the patient, experience. You’ll also want to include electronic cigarettes in your office and employment smoking policies.

Employee benefits

Health club or gym membership. Does your practice provide staff members with a health club or gym membership, or a membership discount? It’s a low-cost benefit that has the potential for big results from both a health and morale standpoint.

Walking club. If a health club membership is out of the question, a lunchtime walking club might be a possibility. Not only does it promote fitness, it encourages camaraderie.

Nutrition counseling. As part of your efforts to create a healthy workplace, consider inviting a nutrition counselor to speak at a staff meeting. Experts are relatively easy to find and many are happy to speak simply for the exposure.

Healthy snacks. Consider stocking your break or lunchroom with granola bars, fresh fruit, and other healthy snacks. Likewise, serve healthy food at breakfast and lunchtime meetings. Help make eating right a practice at your practice.

Creating a healthy workplace requires an initial effort. Maintaining a healthy workplace, however, requires an ongoing commitment. Nevertheless, it is worth the investment of time and other resources because health really is wealth — in more ways than one.


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