This Is the Filthiest Item in Your Doctor’s Office

The dirtiest thing in your doctor's office probably isn't what you think. Here's just how gross it is, and how to avoid it.

Doctor visits should generally make or keep us well. But beyond the coughing and sneezing in the waiting room, germs are lurking in places you never knew. In fact, research conducted by InsuranceQuotes.com found that the item with the most germs is actually the clipboard pen used to sign paperwork.

Researchers tested a few commonly used items around three general physicians’ offices to see which surface was the “germiest.” They conducted 12 tests across four surfaces frequently touched by both patients and doctors.

The results were cringeworthy. The clipboard pen has over 46,000 times more germs than an average toilet seat. (Now check out these 12 everyday items in your home that are dirtier than a toilet seat.)”[The] analysis of a few general doctors’ office items revealed the clipboard pen was alive with germs to the tune of almost 8 million colony-forming units (CFU) per square inch,” the report says. “If that term has you scratching your head, it simply refers to the bacteria’s capability to live and reproduce to form other bacteria of the same kind.”

The doctor’s keyboard ranked second dirtiest. Next was the waiting room chair armrest, then the door handle. And they all harbor more bacteria than a toilet seat, just like those pens! So, it just might be worth bringing your own pen to the office—and keeping your hands to yourself. Want extra ammo for cold and flu season? Try these simple habits to boost your immune system!

And be sure to wash your hands properly after you leave. Believe it or not, only 5 percent of people wash their hands in a way that actually gets them clean, according to a study in the Journal of Environmental Health. Janet Haas, PhD, RN, Director of Epidemiology at Lenox Hill Hospital, tells Reader’s Digest that the trick is to rub soap onto every part of your hands, since the friction is what removes the germs from skin, and to wash for a long enough period of time. “Keep rubbing for 20 seconds, making sure to get soap between fingers and on the backs of hands—and don’t forget the thumbs!” she advises. “Avoid turning off the tap with your clean hands: A towel, a wrist or elbow is preferred to keep your hands clean.”

The most diligent handwashing techniques are worthless if you skimp on drying. Germs love to breed in moisture, and leaving the restroom with still-damp hands can make it easier to pick up germy microbes from the next surface you touch. If you have the choice of paper towels or air blowers, choose the paper towels. In a study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012, researchers analyzed all hand-washing studies done since 1970. The paper concluded that paper towels are superior to driers at getting hands properly dry without spattering germs or drying out your skin. If blowers are your only option, be sure to spend enough time with your hands under the blowing air until they’re completely dry, even if it takes a while. Make sure you always wash your hands immediately after touching these things.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Catherine Uram, MD, on August 05, 2019

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is an associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.