Healthcare News & Insights

Replacing handshakes with fist bumps may reduce germs in hospitals

Stopping the spread of germs in a hospital could be as simple as rethinking the use of a classic social convention: the handshake.

177247681Because of the rise of superbugs that are immune to traditional treatments, hospitals must do everything possible to stop harmful germs from being passed on to patients, including looking at unconventional options.

Handshakes may seem relatively innocuous if hospital staff practice good hand hygiene, but they can still contribute to the spread of bacteria.

Consider this scenario: A nurse carefully washes her hands before tending to a new patient, but she shakes the patient’s unwashed hand when introducing herself. Then, she goes to change the dressing on the patient’s wound. The bacteria from the patient’s hands could potentially contaminate the wound, increasing the chance of infection.

Researchers from West Virginia University have proposed a new, much cooler alternative for clinical staff to greet patients – with potentially fewer germs exchanged. Their solution? The fist bump.

Benefits of extending a closed hand

Fist bumps, commonly seen in pop culture as celebratory gestures after sporting events or casual greetings among friends, may actually be more sanitary than the stodgy, old-fashioned handshake.

The WVU researchers conducted an experiment, detailed in the Journal of Hospital Infection, to see whether handshakes spread more germs than fist bumps in a clinical setting. Participants washed their hands and then alternated between shaking hands and bumping closed fists.

Then, cultures were taken of bacteria that had developed on their hands. The result: More germs were transmitted after shaking hands than bumping fists, likely because handshakes provided more prolonged skin-to-skin contact. According to an article about the study in The Atlantic, the handshake exposed more than three times the skin surface area than the fist bump did, and contact lasted 2.7 times longer.

While foregoing handshakes shouldn’t be a hospital’s sole defense against preventing infection and illness, it’s certainly an inexpensive tactic to try. Substituting a closed fist bump for a handshake could be especially smart during flu season, as the illness spreads rapidly in close contact.

So the next time one of your doctors walks into a room to greet a patient, you might want to encourage them to move in for a fist bump instead.

Bonus: It may make your staff popular with your hip, young patients, which could really pay off on those patient satisfaction surveys.

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