Handshaking Spreads Germs. Get Over It.

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , July 31, 2014

Evidence is mounting that alternatives to hand-to-hand contact between and among healthcare workers and sick people are necessary to curb the spread of infection.


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.

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2 comments on "Handshaking Spreads Germs. Get Over It."

Renee Juster (8/20/2014 at 1:19 PM)
Handshakes do transmit germs but the spread only occurs if healthcare workers don't gel or wash their hands. It begins with a basic understanding of how transmission occurs and a reinforcement of how important it is to overall health both in and out of the hospital setting. If we lose the ability to connect with touch on a human level, our world will be forever changed and not in a positive way.

Judy (8/6/2014 at 2:34 PM)
"The real solution is to take the onus away from the healthcare providers, and get the support of public policy and the community. That's the bottom line," he says." [INVALID] The onus is on everyone. There is no reason for this individual to abdicate an entire profession from taking responsibility for itself and for patient safety. This leads to nothing getting done... or things getting done much more slowly than they would otherwise. I have had plenty of physicians who didn't shake my hand. It neither offended me, nor even really registered. The idea that I've heard from some that a handshake is important to the patient-provider relationship to such an extent that it should take precedence over infection-prevention and the elimination of the handshake is absurd. This sounds to me like an objection from a profession that doesn't like change and doesn't feel responsible for making the tiniest of changes to protect others. It's high time that the provider community take some responsibility for moving the system forward and improving patient safety. The onus is not simply on the public and it is not on policy change. The onus is also very much on the one initiating the handshaking. This is an intervention that really could not be more simple. If you are concerned about offending people, put up very colorful, very noticeable signs in each room of the clinic/hospital letting people know why you are not shaking their hands - just like many of you do to inform patients that they should ask their provider to wash their hands - yet another example of putting the onus on everyone but the person who is responsible for their own behavior in the first place. I fail to see why this should be difficult. In any other industry, people would just do it. Not in healthcare. In healthcare, it's always someone else's responsibility.




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