For decades healthcare has been moving away from consolidated medical campuses and out into the community, with retail healthcare solutions popping up in strip malls, pharmacies, and grocery stores. Moving closer to consumers makes it more convenient to access wellness services and preventive care, ultimately reducing communities’ need for more expensive specialty and emergency care.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only added fuel to this retail health clinic growth trajectory. The federal government has set the goal of delivering millions of vaccines to up to 40,000 drugstores and grocery stores around the nation. Building upon the increasing demand for convenient healthcare, CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart are rolling out in-store clinics and doctor’s offices.Convenience isn’t the only factor behind this trend. The pandemic has left many people reluctant to seek care at their doctor’s office for fear of COVID-infected patients. While health and wellness retailers have had a steady uptick in traffic, expanding clinical services run the risk of creating that same environment of fear. This expansion may require taking additional steps to keep facilities safe for visitors.
More than ever, employees and visitors need to know that these retail health clinics follow best practices around environmental cleaning.
Are health and wellness retailers healthy?
Clean environments are a life-or-death matter for healthcare facilities, and much work and research has been dedicated to determining how best to keep these spaces clean. Hospital-acquired infections, often arising from environmental contaminants ranging from fungal spores to bacteria, are best kept under control through proactive cleaning in line with healthcare best practices.
While most retail sites have cleaning plans, and some even have healthcare accreditations in place that require compliance with certain levels of cleanliness, there appears to be variation in the level of protections put in place. That’s because these retail healthcare solutions can be classified as businesses, rather than healthcare facilities, and therefore do not have to abide by specific healthcare facility building codes.
While few outbreaks have been reported at pharmacy-based clinics, several complaints have been filed with the Occupational Safety & Health Administration as a result of outbreaks and lack of enforcement of Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommendations at the site of some big box retailers that house healthcare offerings. A single outbreak at one such site can elevate concern around the safety of all such facilities.
Most robust cleaning for retail health clinics
Organizations like CVS and Target, for example, note that they’re following the CDC’s recommended practices on wiping surfaces clean. However, experts increasingly agree that ventilation is a key part of limiting the spread of airborne transmission. This is one area where retail health clinics may face challenges.
In a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, investigators with the University of Texas concluded that the outpatient clinics they evaluated did not fully meet healthcare ventilation standards as listed in ANSI/ASHRAE/ASHE Standard 170, Ventilation of Health Care Facilities. The standard in question establishes the parameters for ventilation of healthcare facilities.
“Lower than standard air changes per hour [ACH] were observed and could lead to an increased risk of spread of diseases when conducting advanced procedures and evaluating persons of interest for emerging infectious diseases,” the study concludes.
The study was undertaken due to concerns around the increasing role outpatient clinics are playing as a retail healthcare solution in response to evaluating patients during the COVID-19 outbreak. “These responses commonly recommend that patient evaluations be conducted in a negative pressure isolation room that is required to have 12 ACH. When working in outpatient clinic space with a lower than minimum standard ACH, the ability to safely perform assessments and patient care may inadvertently increase the risk to workers and the potential spread of the disease within the clinic,” the study states.
Any step to change your HVAC system's performance should be done following the advice of an expert in this area, such as an HVAC contractor or environmental engineer. However, retail health clinics that want to make immediate changes can also look at supplemental air cleaning technologies to reduce the level of contaminants circulating through the air.
Immediate steps for clearing the air
The best strategy for keeping employees and healthcare consumers safe is a layered approach to protection. When used in conjunction with other best practices, including social distancing requirements and mask-wearing, air filtration is one retail healthcare solution that can help reduce the potential for airborne transmission of COVID-19 particles.
Retail health clinic operators can start by reducing the amount of contamination that can get into the in-duct filtration system. This can begin with regular vacuuming using a unit with a HEPA filter. A HEPA filter can help remove up to 99.97% of airborne particles up to 0.3 microns in size even before that air is moved through your in-duct filtration system.
As the Mayo Clinic notes, COVID-19 does not necessarily travel through the air on its own. It attaches to respiratory droplets, dust, and mucus, hitching a ride on these particulates to move through the environment. A HEPA filter won’t inactivate the viral particle, but it will remove the particles that might transport the virus so they cannot continue to circulate.
Other solutions might include an air purifier or cleaner. The challenge with this solution is that some types of single-room air cleaners only clean the air that comes into contact with this unit. Still, strategically placing an air purifier in high-traffic areas—say, near the door of the clinic portion of a retail site—can add an extra layer of protection.
However, these air cleaning strategies also offer an added benefit to retailers. Deploying air purifiers and solutions like Whiz, the robot vacuum from SoftBank Robotics, around your store, makes air cleaning more visible to anyone walking through your space. Many organizations are finding that these highly visible solutions provide a sense of comfort to building occupants still anxious about their in-store safety.
Visibly demonstrate cleanliness today
With the uptick in traffic projected to come their way, retail healthcare solutions may find they need to take more concrete steps to ensure their patients' safety. Consumers have more choices than ever in where to get their healthcare needs met. Given the more stringent expectations about cleanliness in today’s environment, it’s clear that facilities visibly demonstrating the safety measures they're taking will have the greatest edge.
Solutions like Whiz don’t just add to your environment’s safety, but also provide staff and other building occupants reassuring visibility that action is being taken. Whiz is also an ideal solution for retail environments, as it can be easily programmed to maneuver around aisles and display counters. All you have to do is teach Whiz once, and from there, it runs that same route on its own.
To learn more about how an autonomous cleaning solution like Whiz can help you create a healthier environment, Contact SoftBank Robotics today.