When patients visit Mark Schenkel, MD, in his West Hills, CA family practice, they're greeted by signs posted in the waiting area and inside each exam room: "Don't Be Offended. Handshaking Spreads Germs."
That's to explain why he and his staff no longer shake the hands of patients and their family members. He doesn't want anyone to feel insulted or think he's being rude.
The policy he set a few weeks ago is an experiment to see how well staff and patients adjust to his "hands-off" approach to reducing infections, since several research studies show handshakes can transmit illness-causing organisms.
"I explain to them, 'I'm not being like that germaphobe Howie Mandel,' " he says, referring to the actor-comedian who is publicly candid about his struggle with obsessive compulsive disorder.
But evidence is mounting that hand-to-hand contact between healthcare workers and sick people spreads disease, Schenkel says. Banning the handshake in his practice is one way he might help prevent spread of disease.
Ban the Handshake
It all started in June with a viewpoint piece published in JAMA, in which Mark Sklansky, MD, a pediatric cardiologist at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and colleagues, admonished fellow clinicians to "ban the handshake" from healthcare settings to keep nosocomial infections down, Schenkel says.