Photo: Huy Doan via Doctor On Demand

For many parents, all they want for Christmas is the gift of health. Or to put it another way, parents are trying to find ways to prevent their family from getting the cold or flu over the holidays. That really would make it ‘the most wonderful time of the year, wouldn’t it?

After all, who wants to spend the holidays in a doctor’s office? For example, did you know that the clipboard pen at a doctor’s office has 46,000 more germs than the inside of a toilet bowl? Not only that, but according to a 2017 survey by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, waiting room surfaces aren’t cleaned 94.2 percent of the time. Do you really want to take a 6.8 percent chance with your health?

If you’re a parent and you want to protect your family from the cold and flu, going to a doctor’s office is the last place you want to go. Even though it might sound counter-intuitive, you run the risk of exposing your children and those with compromised immune systems to more germs and making mild cold symptoms go from from bad to worse.

So as a doctor treating thousands of patients during cold and flu season: what’s my advice? Don’t fret—there is a solution to the threat of the waiting room.

Avoid the waiting room (if you can).

Given all the germs lurking in the furniture, toys and doorknobs of the doctor’s waiting room, the best option for germ prevention this cold and flu season is to avoid the waiting room. Instead, opt for a virtual care visit with a telemedicine provider. Within five minutes, you and your children can be seen by a board-certified physician without even having to leave the comfort of your own home.

Wash your hands and sanitize often.

When it comes to washing your hands, you can never have too much of a good thing. Whether it’s in a waiting room, or at any time when you or your child are sick, it’s a best practice to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after sneezing, touching your face, or after touching surfaces in communal areas like playgrounds. Parents should also be sure to sanitize their hands after holding their child to prevent the spread of germs from skin on skin contact.

What to do if you STILL get sick?

So let’s say that even after you take all of the proper precautions to keep your kids and your family healthy, you still get sick. What can you do to prevent your family from getting even sicker?

Wear a mask.

It might sound like overkill, but wearing a surgical mask can help prevent the spread of germs, especially when you’re surrounded by other patients who are contagious. If you have to visit a doctor’s office, I recommend bringing your own mask or asking for a mask at the reception desk to help cover your mouth and nose. Without it, it’s easy to inhale the germ droplets around you from other people’s coughs and sneezes.

Keep your kids off the floor.

Even with regular vacuuming and spot cleaning, commercial carpeting in healthcare settings can easily trap allergens, dust, and even germs from the staff, patients, and visitors. If your medical reception area contains carpeting, rugs, or floor mats, be sure that your children are waiting on the chairs or in their stroller versus sitting on the floor with their toys to avoid the germs trapped in the carpet.

Bring your own reading material and toys.

Hard surfaces like tables and chairs in the waiting room are usually wiped down on a regular basis but the magazines, books and toys on those tables tend to be lifted up and not wiped down in the cleaning process. To avoid the dog-eared magazine pages and used toys, we suggest bringing your own reading material and toys for your children to help make the wait go by faster.

This year, the healthcare industry has seen 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 people hospitalized because of the flu. But preventing the cold and flu is totally manageable. Remember that it’s best to avoid waiting rooms, sanitize your hands and surfaces you come into contact with regularly, wear a mask if you can, and avoid touching surfaces and items in communal areas. Thankfully with the advent of health technology and the ability to see your family from home through a virtual care visit, you don’t have to risk picking up germs in the waiting room, and you’re empowered to take your health in your hands.