Ban the Handshake in Health Care

Hand hygiene compliance is the key to infection prevention efforts, but the hand-to-hand transfer of infectious bacteria remains a common public health hazard. Is it time to ban handshakes in healthcare settings?20131210_fist

In an editorial published online in JAMA earlier this month, 3 clinicians from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in Los Angeles propose the prohibition of this familiar greeting between providers and patients in order to prevent passing pathogens, reduce infection rates and ensure patient safety.

According to their proposal, hospitals, surgical centers and office practices would be designated “handshake-free zones,” in which open-handed waves, bowed heads, hands over the heart and yoga-style “Namaste” gestures would become the custom.

Their caution is not entirely far-fetched. Last year researchers from the West Virginia University School of Medicine found that a fist-bump between providers was less likely to transfer bacteria than a handshake. The California clinicians admit that eliminating handshakes won’t be easy, but argue that it deserves further study.

“Removing the handshake from the health care setting may ultimately become recognized as an important way to protect the health of patients and caregivers, rather than as a personal insult to whoever refuses another’s hand,” they write. “Given the tremendous social and economic burden of hospital-acquired infections and antimicrobial resistance, and the variable success of current approaches to hand hygiene in the health care environment, it would be a mistake to dismiss, out of hand, such a promising, intuitive, and affordable ban.”

David Bernard –Outpatient Surgery Magazine