Ditch the flowers and balloons: Why hospitals want families to leave gifts at home

Many hospitals are modifying their visiting polices to restrict get-well items gifted to patients, according to the Wall Street Journal. Although ICUs have banned items like flowers for decades, similar bans are trickling down to some ICU step-down units, cardiac care units, and pediatric, labor and delivery units, among others.

Bans are established to limit the spread of infection and reduce patient harm, though sometimes the links between the items and their harm are not solidified, according to the WSJ. What is and isn't banned varies among each hospital's visitor policies, so guests are best positioned to do their research before arriving on the hospital campus with gifts in hand.

Here are five items increasingly banned in some healthcare facilities:

1. Flowers and plants are restricted in some hospitals based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to protect immunosuppressive patients, given plants' potential to grow mold. However, the CDC states that "minimal or no evidence indicates that the presence of plants in immunocompetent patient-care areas poses an increased risk of healthcare–associated infection," according to the Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Health-Care Facilities.

The CDC also recommends healthcare workers administering patient care refrain from handling flowers. Pollen can stick to a healthcare worker's clothes and be transferred to patients who are allergic to it, according to the WSJ. Hospitals that specialize in organ transplants may enforce stricter rules about flowers than smaller hospitals.

Flowers and spilled water from the vase can also hinder access to patients in emergency situations. Further, the vase can sometimes be used by a patient to inflict self-harm, according to the WSJ.

2. Balloons, especially those made of latex, can trigger allergic reactions. This safety concern has caused many hospitals to ban them altogether. For example, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital has a ban on all latex and Mylar balloons. (Mylar is a synthetic metal).

Balloons pose another risk: their strings can get caught in equipment like IV poles and hinder easy access to the patient. Balloon strings are also something psychiatric patients can use to inflict self-harm, according to the WSJ.

3. Cell phones are restricted for many reasons, including fear of electromagnetic wave interference with medical equipment. However, there is little evidence of this threat, according to the WSJ. 

Cell phones are sometimes banned to prevent noisiness, tripping hazards when attached to chargers, WiFi draining and distraction. Cell phones also carry 10 times more bacteria than what is found on most toilet seats, according to a 2012 University of Arizona study. Hospital policies related to cell phones vary. Most restrictions apply to the ICU.

4. Stuffed animals can cause harm if their attached eyes, noses, beads or buttons fall off and get into the hands of young patients, who may swallow them.

5. Food can be banned from facilities in an effort to keep patients who suffer from food allergies and dietary restricts safe, according to the WSJ. Children's hospitals are especially unlikely to allow food unless a nursing supervisor has approved.

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