Fist bumps may be a less bacteria-laden alternative to handshakes and high-fives, according to the latest study of the comparative healthiness of some common greeting behaviors. But a researcher studying nonverbal communication says he can't really see the trend germinating among physicians.
The fist bump is “a simple, free and more hygienic alternative to the handshake,” concluded a study published last week in the American Journal of Infection Control. Nearly twice as many bacteria were transferred during a handshake compared with a high-five. But “dap”—the knocking of fists together—consistently generated the lowest transmission of germs, found researchers from Aberystwyth University in Wales. Skin-to-skin contact is limited to a smaller area in a dap, the study said.
Outliers recently noted other efforts to stamp out healthcare handshakes. In an essay in JAMA, some called for regulations restricting them from the healthcare setting, in conjunction with robust hand-hygiene programs.
Knuckle-knocking might be good in theory, but getting clinicians to actually do it may cause public health officials to throw up their hands in frustration, suggests professional people-watcher David Givens, director of the Center for Nonverbal Studies in Spokane, Wash. Unlike the handshake, which traditionally communicates trust, he says fist bumps seem to originate in sports and are associated with triumph or getting ahead of the competition. The gesture might send a confusing nonverbal message to patients, he said. “The fist bump just wouldn't communicate the same level of good will,” Givens said. “It's a second of stopping germs, but I don't think it's got the legs to stand up to the handshake.”