Exploring Human Potential

Are Doctors Afraid To Touch Patients?

Posted on | July 3, 2014 | 5 Comments

Mike Magee

Where do I begin? When I read the JAMA title last week, “Banning the handshake from the health care setting”, my immediate reaction was, “Seriously, have we gone this far?”

Then I read the dispassionate opening, “The handshake represents a deeply established social custom. In recent years, however, there has been increasing recognition of the importance of hands as vectors for infection, leading to formal recommendations and policies regarding hand hygiene in hospitals and other health care facilities. Such programs have been limited by variable compliance and efficacy. In an attempt to avoid contracting or spreading infection, many individuals have made their own efforts to avoid shaking hands in various settings but, in doing so, may face social, political, and even financial risks.”

And my second reaction was, “Is this really about patient welfare or about institutionally based doctors and their reticence to take the risk to touch a patient”.

Then I read, “Particularly in the current era of health care reform, innovative, practical, and fiscally prudent approaches toward the prevention of disease will assume increasingly important roles.” And my third reaction was, “Do they really want to go there, to justify contact-less caring as cost-effective?”

And in the arena of rare and strange analogies, the authors proclaim, “Although the mortality associated with smoking has been found to be substantially greater than that associated with hospital-acquired infections, some parallels may be drawn between the proposal to remove the handshake from the health care setting and previous efforts to ban smoking from public places.” To which my inner doctor shrank as humanistic care went up in smoke.

Finally I read the very last sentence, and it said, “Given the tremendous social and economic burden of hospital-acquired infections and antimicrobial resistance, and the variable success of current approaches to hand hygiene in the health care environment, it would be a mistake to dismiss, out of hand, such a promising, intuitive, and affordable ban.” And I concluded, “Just one more reason why Americans need to avoid going to the hospital.”

For Health Commentary, I’m Mike Magee


5 Responses to “Are Doctors Afraid To Touch Patients?”

  1. Susanna Roberts, RN
    July 3rd, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

    My physician ended our recent encounter with a friendly “fist bump.” Of course this didn’t replace hand hygiene requirements.

  2. Bruce Sparks. (South Africa)
    July 4th, 2014 @ 4:33 am

    Well commented Mike. The next step is don’t touch the patient at all!….depend on MRIs and scans to examine patients… That being the case why not stay at home and consult patients via Skype!

  3. Mike Magee
    July 4th, 2014 @ 8:21 am

    Thanks, Bruce. Your line to technology is well drawn. Humanistic care can certainly be enhanced by the use of modern information technology – but it can also be substituted which would be an entirely different outcome altogether. Best, Mike

  4. denise link
    July 5th, 2014 @ 5:28 pm

    Oh – my – goodness 🙁 Handwashing, anyone? Yes of course adhere scrupulously to standard precautions, but can’t we find a satisfactory way to do that without banning touching? There are studies that have found that stethoscopes are also vectors for infection. Is that why so many providers are relying more on diagnostic testing and abandoning the effort to develop and maintain sound, basic physical assessment skills?

  5. yahoo
    July 16th, 2014 @ 6:58 am

    I read this article fully on the topic of the resemblance of most up-to-date and earlier technologies, it’s awesome article.

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