First doctors were told their ties might be making patients sick. Several years later, it was the traditional white coat—often seen as a sign of physicians' professionalism—that was identified as a germ carrier. Now doctor-patient handshakes are getting the same treatment.
Shake hands, oh wait, maybe not, docs told
Dr. Mark Sklansky and colleagues from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles likened the health benefits of banning handshakes from the healthcare environment to bans on smoking in public spaces.
“Particularly in the current era of healthcare reform, innovative, practical and fiscally prudent approaches toward the prevention of disease will assume increasingly important roles,” Sklansky and colleagues wrote. “Regulations to restrict the handshake from the healthcare setting, in conjunction with more robust hand hygiene programs, may help limit the spread of disease and thus could potentially decrease the clinical and economic burden associated with hospital-acquired infections and antimicrobial resistance.”
It sounds as if they're serious. Then, as if to illustrate the lengths some doctors may go to avoid washing their hands, Sklansky and colleagues even suggest posting signs explaining that, “to protect your health and of those around you,” a healthcare setting had become a handshake-free zone.
Suggested replacements for the handshake included: placing a hand over the heart, bowing, yoga's “Namaste gesture,” or simply waving.
Sklansky, who has only six followers on twitter and has only tweeted twice at @MSklansky, spread his message through the old media. He appeared on radio and television stations in Chicago; Houston; New York; Sarasota, Fla.; Washington; and elsewhere.
While Sklansky may be unfamiliar with twitter, those active in social media had a lot to say about his idea.
“Now doctors can't even shake hands with their patients, how about a hug??” tweeted @DrNancySimpkins, an internist from Livingston, N.J.
Lynda Enemuoh, an optometrist from Columbus, Ohio, tweeted: “I can't even imagine being faced with the option to fist bump my patients or for me to be fist pumped by my doctor.”
Dr. Anjali Taneja, a “family doc” in Las Vegas, appeared particularly upset by the essay and tweeted several comments, starting with: “There's an opinion piece in the newest JAMA that I don't know if I can bear to read. 'Banning the Handshake from the Health Care Setting.'"
This was followed by “And what strong language, that 'ban' word. My my.”
She then continued on with this tweet: “I shake hands with my patients, I hug them, I kiss them on the cheek, I squeeze their hand, I high five them.”
And then Dr. Taneja, a.k.a. @losanjalis, concluded with: “Those are modes of connection, empathy, understanding, healing touch. It's on me to diligently wash my hands between every visit.”
Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks
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