Published 10/1/2009

Flu precautions for medical offices

10 steps you can take

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ensuring a sustainable community healthcare response will be important for a likely recurrence of novel influenza A (H1N1), a new flu virus of swine origin that first caused illness in Mexico and the United States in March and April 2009. H1N1 flu spreads in the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread, mainly through the coughs and sneezes of people who are sick with the virus, but it may also be spread by touching infected objects and then touching your nose or mouth.

The CDC recommends that medical offices and other outpatient facilities such as outpatient/ambulatory clinics, outpatient surgery centers, urgent care centers, physical therapy/rehabilitation offices, or clinics take the following steps:

1. Develop a business continuity plan. To minimize the impact of H1N1 flu outbreaks on your organization, identify essential functions and the individuals who perform them. Make sure you have trained enough people in these essential functions to allow for potential absenteeism. Develop a plan that will sustain your core business activities for several weeks. Establish alternate plans for critical supplies in case your supply chains are disrupted.

2. Keep employees informed. Provide clear and frequent communication to ensure that your staff are aware and understand the plan. Explain any policies and procedures that will be used to protect staff and your patients and to manage a surge of patients. Advise employees to establish their own pandemic family or personal plans.

3. Plan for significant staff absenteeism. Cross train staff so that you can continue operations even if 20 percent to 40 percent of your employees can’t come to work. Develop plans to ensure continuity of operations with reduced staff.

4. Ask sick employees to stay home. Align your sick leave policies so ill staff can stay home. All personnel should self monitor daily for signs and symptoms of febrile respiratory illness. If symptoms develop, staff should not report to work; if at work, staff should cease patient care activities and notify their supervisor.

5. Plan for questions. Consider using your telephone system to deliver messages to incoming callers about when to seek medical care at your facility, when to seek emergency care, and where to go for information about caring for a person with flu at home.

6. Screen patients. Make plans to screen patients for signs and symptoms of febrile respiratory illness at entry to the facility. If feasible, use separate reception and exam rooms for possible H1N1 flu patients; plan to offer surgical masks (adult and pediatric) to symptomatic patients, provide facial tissues and receptacles for their disposal, and dispense hand hygiene products in reception areas and examination rooms.

7. Protect the health of your workforce during an outbreak. All healthcare personnel who come in close contact with patients who may have H1N1 flu should take precautions, including wearing respiratory and eye protection when performing patient care activities.

8. Provide free seasonal flu immunization for your staff. Several influenza strains may circulate simultaneously during the fall. Although seasonal flu immunization will not provide protection against H1N1 influenza, annual influenza vaccinations are recommended for healthcare professionals and will likely protect against seasonal influenza strains.

9. Know your local pandemic plan and response activities. Actively seek information from and coordinate with key local medical and clinical facilities and public health departments to learn how they will manage patients during a pandemic. Medical offices, emergency departments, urgent care centers, and hospitals in communities with outbreaks may have difficulty managing a large influx of patients; a coordinated community response is important to manage surge and ensure optimal patient care. Develop a plan to manage your patients who do not need to seek emergency services.

10. Know where to turn to for information. Monitor the CDC H1N1 flu Web site and local and state health department Web sites for the latest information.

Additional Resources:

Sign up for regular updates about novel H1N1 influenza, emerging infectious diseases, and other emergency preparedness and response information

For information on caring for patients

For information on the use of infection control measures including use of personal protective equipment for staff

For information on influenza vaccination of healthcare personnel

For contact information for local health departments

For contact information for state health departments