February 4, 2013
With most of the US still reporting elevated influenza activity, we asked our Chief Medical Officer, Robert Harrington, MD, SFHM, to offer his view of this year’s flu season and his advice for locum tenens, many of whom will be working in facilities with increased patient volumes because of the flu.
“Hospitals are using more locum tenens during the winter to manage the increase in patients with respiratory concerns,” says Harrington, a practicing Hospitalist who also works periodically as a locum. “If you’re a physician who works in a hospital, you generally understand that you will be exposed to the flu—it’s an accepted occupational hazard.”
While doctors accept this risk, they can also take steps to mitigate their exposure, says Harrington. His tips:
- Wash Your Hands: A seeming no-brainer, but studies show compliance with hand washing policies among healthcare workers is low. If you’re new to a facility, Harrington says take time on day one to note the locations of hand-washing and hand sanitizing stations. In addition to washing your hands both before and after you enter a room, carry around some germ-fighting lotion for extra protection.
- Find a mask: This flu season, hospitals are increasing their vigilance on mask policies and adding mask stations for staff and patients. Know where to find masks in your facility and familiarize yourself with the hospital’s policies on mask-wearing.
- Get a Flu Shot: Locum physicians must adhere to the employee health policies of the hospital they’re working at, and most hospitals now require the flu shot. Vaccination records, of course, are standard for credentialing. While some healthcare workers refuse the shot annually (and face disciplinary action as a result), Harrington says most doctors comply unless they have a known contraindication, such as an allergy to the vaccine.
- Keep Yourself Informed: Use the CDC website, to follow flu outbreaks and severity throughout the United States. As a locum tenens, it’s helpful to know the current status of the flu in an area where you’ll be working.