Bow to your doctor
Recently, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggested that healthcare providers ban handshaking in the workplace as a means to prevent spread of germs and communicable diseases. The article says that handshaking should be attacked similar to banning smoking. Since handshaking is such a deeply ingrained greeting, there should be signs posted making medical establishments “Handshaking Free Zones” so no one takes a rejection of a handshake personally.
Hospital acquired illnesses affect one million patients a year with about 100,000 deaths according to the Centers for Disease Control. Good hand hygiene is the gold standard in reducing these numbers.
A no handshaking policy makes sense for health care providers. I went to see an orthopedic surgeon this morning and the first thing he did upon entering the room was shake my hand. Then he put on some gloves, drew some blood from my arm and removed the gloves and left without ever washing his hands. I’m always surprised when doctors greet me by shaking hands. I even saw an infectious disease specialist and he shook my hand. An infectious disease specialist!
A doctor shaking your hand makes a great impression. It conveys warmth. But it also can convey bugs. I’ve even had doctors physically examine me with their bare hands and leave without washing their hands or using the sanitizer on the wall!
In addition to colds and flus, it’s possible for people to transmit MRSA or C difficile, serious infections resistant to antibiotics. This is especially worrisome to someone like me who has a weakened immune system.
But should we extend the ban on handshaking to society in general? I’m a guy and I can tell you the majority of men I’ve seen use public restrooms don’t wash their hands. While washing my hands in the Colorado Springs Airport restroom years ago I counted 17 men walk out without stopping by the sink.
People pick their nose. They scratch. Those who haven’t learned to sneeze or cough in the crook of their arm are doing it into their hands. Then these folks are shaking your hand, grabbing that shopping cart handle, touching doorknobs and on and on.
Most people don’t know how to wash their hands. The quick rinse isn’t doing it. Here’s what the CDC says you should be doing:
- Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
- Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Be sure to lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
- Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
- Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
- Dry your hands using a clean towel or air-dry them.
Are you doing that? Every time?
Should we ditch the handshake? Perhaps we could adopt a bow like some Asian countries use. Or maybe just the reverse head nod with the accompanying “’sup?” A fist bump works. The hug is a perfectly acceptable greeting. I’m a hugger.
Whatever we adopt in the future will have to be universally known and accepted, because there are few worse social faux pas than to leave someone hanging when they extend a hand.
Regardless, if our society ever moves beyond the handshake, there’s no reason for healthcare providers to be shaking hands with patient after patient. We need to work toward 100% good hand hygiene compliance. It can be the difference between life and death.