Doctors Are Refusing Handshakes: Bad Manners or a Smart Germ Control Tactic?


It isn’t news that hands carry germs. During flu season, the advice that seems to be the most advertised in order to prevent the spread of the virus is to wash hands often. Some people, in an attempt to avoid getting sick, skip handshakes altogether. (Comedian Howie Mandel notoriously doesn’t shake hands because of his germophobia.) But maybe Mr. Mandel is onto something.


There is now a handshake-free zone at UCLA’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Dr. Mark Sklansky, professor of clinical pediatrics and chief of pediatric cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, started the initiative in 2015 and hopes that it will be adopted by other areas of the hospital and beyond. Dr. Sklansky’s effort is intended to protect the small, vulnerable patients in the NICU.

ABC News has more:

“The handshake-free zone brings attention to the hands as vectors to disease,” Dr. Mark Sklansky told ABC News, explaining that people’s hands are often covered in bacteria or viruses picked up from various surfaces. “If people knew this years ago, [handshakes] would not be part of the practice of healthcare.”

Unsurprisingly, families of the patients in the NICU tend to be completely supportive of the handshake-free program. But not everyone has been happy to get on board.

[Sklansky] found that families were likely to be in support of the program immediately but older, male physicians were the most reticent about giving up handshakes. The study was published earlier this year in the American Journal of Infection Control.


Sklansky said that for doctors, shaking hands isn’t just about good manners, it’s also part of their medical school training. While counterintuitive, he thinks that taking away the handshake can actually force doctors to take more time and make more of a connection with a patient and their family before delving into treatment options.


Handshakes, more than high-fives or fist bumps, transmit the most bacteria and viruses. When doctors and medical personnel come from treating other sick patients, there is a chance they can spread germs to other patients in a hospital. While proper hand sanitation is encouraged, it does not happen as often as one would hope. Skipping handshakes altogether could work wonders to help prevent the spread of disease to NICU patients and others as well.


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