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My Doctor Won’t Shake My Hand—Good!

Imagine the following scenario. You walk into your doctor’s office for an appointment. You check in at the front desk and are then called back to an examination room. You hear a knock after a few minutes, and in walks the doctor. You are prepared to greet your doctor with a handshake, but to your surprise, the doctor keeps his hands at his side, greets you, and begins the appointment.

Rather than be offended by this seemingly impolite gesture, you should be grateful.

Many doctors’ offices and medical facilities have begun encouraging other types of greeting and gestures—such as nods, waves, bows, and even fist bumps.

It’s admittedly a hard habit to break, as our culture has been shaking hands for hundreds of years. However, touching hands spreads bacteria and viruses. Physicians’ hands may be the temporary home to many more bacteria—including those that are antibiotic-resistant—than those of the average individual.

Studies show that physician compliance with hand-washing and other hygiene rules is at about 40 percent. However, the rate may actually be lower, as there is a significant difference between just washing your hands and washing them properly. And no, using hand sanitizer often does not work.

Proper hand washing consists of wetting the hands with clean, running water. The water may either be hot or cold. Next, soap should be applied and lathered between the hands. The individual should scrub the backs of the hands, between the fingers, and underneath the fingernails. The process should take at least 20 seconds—or the amount of time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” two times in a row. Next, the hands should be rinsed well under running water and dried with a clean towel. Air-drying is also an option.

If only hand sanitizer is available, it should be dispensed into the palm. The sanitizer should then be rubbed all over the hands. Hand sanitizer has its limitations. If the hands are especially dirty, it may not be as effective. In addition, it may not remove all germs—like viruses—from the hands.

Consider the patient who is awaiting surgery. In a pre-op room, the patient may meet an anesthesiologist, nurse, surgeon, and several other professionals. How do all of these professionals usually greet the patient? By shaking hands. Although the patient is not yet in surgery, which, of course, is the time when a patient may be most susceptible to infection, the patient may still be exposed to bacteria and viruses with each handshake. Should the patient touch his eyes, lips, or nose after a handshake, the patient has just unknowingly increased his risk of developing an infection during or after the surgical procedure.

Therefore, do not be surprised if you see signs in medical offices about reducing or eliminating handshaking. And, do not be so quick to think your doctor is rude if her hand is not extended right away.

Contact us to schedule a free consultation with our Cleveland medical negligence attorneys

At The Eisen Law Firm, we understand that pursuing a medical negligence claim is stressful and scary. Our legal team is experienced in all types of medical negligence claims and is prepared to discuss your options with you during a free consultation. To schedule your free consultation, call 216-687-0900 or contact us online.