By Dr. Dave Hnida
It’s a fairly standard greeting … the “hello” handshake. Whenever I meet a new patient, I say Hi, introduce myself, and stick my hand out for a shake. And if it’s someone I have seen before, there’s a Hi, how have you been, with a simultaneous handshake.
But if infectious disease experts from UCLA have their way, my handshake may go the way of leeches and bloodletting – replaced by a long distance wave or salute.
A commentary in the Journal Of The American Medical Association says it’s time to say goodbye to the handshake greeting in a health care setting. Or for that measure, goodbye to the goodbye handshake as well.
Sure, a firm handshake can be seen as a sign of greeting and compassion, but it’s also believed to be one of the easiest methods to transmit germs. We’ve actually believe this for a long time but perhaps there is new urgency in the mysterious new world of diseases like MERS.
So the recommendation is to treat handshakes like smoking. In other words, since there are a lot of places that simply have smoke free zones, it seems like a good idea to have handshake free zones.
That means educational programs, signage (I guess a stencil of a handshake with a big “X” through it), and perhaps penalties for violating the no-handshake policy.
The authors write: “Removing the handshake from the healthcare setting may ultimately become recognized as an important way to protect the health of patients and caregivers, rather than a personal insult to whoever refuses another’s hand.”
They recommend we develop an alternate greeting that doesn’t involve touching. And one that won’t insult someone.
A text? A phone call? A megaphone hello from down the hallway?
It all makes me wonder, if no contact is allowed, how am I supposed to do an exam?
I mean, that involves actually touch someone to figure out what’s wrong. Perhaps I’m supposed to use a glove attached to the end of an 8 foot long stick. From the hallway.
Now that’s insulting.
In the meantime, I will continue to wash my hands between patients. Use soap. Hand sanitizer. Whatever.