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Back in December, our blog discussed a very interesting study by researchers at the University of West Virginia examining whether the spread of potentially deadly nosocomial infections — which typically occur within 48 hours of admission, three days of discharge or 30 days of surgery — could be greatly reduced by physicians using a decidedly more primitive greeting with their patients.
To recap, the researchers examined whether a smaller number of bacteria/germs were transmitted when medical professionals opted for a fist bump instead of a handshake.
As part of the study, two health care workers washed their hands in accordance with standard hospital procedures and shook the hands of 20 fellow workers. The researchers then took cultures of their hands to test for bacteria. This process was repeated substituting a fist bump for a handshake.
The researchers ultimately found the presence of bacteria after the handshakes was four times greater than after the fist bumps.
Interestingly, the study gained considerable traction in the popular press after its publication, such that many members of the medical community are continuing to speak out about it six months later.
The prevailing attitude among physicians across all specialties and geographic areas appears to be that fist bumping with patients serves as a rather poor substitute for a handshake or other form of physical greeting, which studies have shown patients prefer.
Indeed, a landmark study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine back in 2007 found that 78 percent of the 400 patients interviewed about physician-patient interactions indicated that they wanted their treating physician to greet them with a handshake.
Studies published in 2009 and 2012 showed similar results.
Furthermore, it appears that many physicians are also partial to a handshake.
“Holding someone’s hand in a handshake is a more personal way of touching and interacting than a fist bump,” said one physician. “For me, it’s absolutely inculcated in the way I interact with patients and families. Upon first meeting patients, it’s a sign of respect and courtesy, and if you have a well-established relationship with a patient, it becomes almost an exchange of endearment.”
Regarding the risk of infections, the medical community appears to be in agreement that the risk of transmitting bacteria can be mitigated by proper hand washing. Indeed, the physician author of the fist bumping study has since indicated that his objective was only to raise awareness among hospital staff about the importance of proper sanitization procedures and the dangers of failing to follow them.
“The overall goal of the study was to do one thing: to bring attention to the importance of hand washing,” he said. “It’s a funny way to raise attention, I know, but my goal wasn’t to get rid of handshaking and supplant it with fist bumping.”
Regardless of how physicians opt to greet their patients going forward, it can still be said that the fist bumping study raised some very interesting points about the adequacy of current infection control strategies and did provoke a meaningful dialogue.
If you or a loved one has suffered unduly because of a hospital-acquired infection, consider speaking with an experienced and dedicated attorney.
Source: Medscape, “Patient contact: Shake hands, hug, fist bump, or just smile?” Shelly Reese, May 20, 2014; MedCity News, “Want to spread fewer germs in hospitals? Ditch the handshake, go for a fist bump,” Deanna Pogorelc, Nov. 26, 2013
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