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Is it time for medical professionals to abandon the handshake?

If you think back to the last time you met with a physician, chances are good that the first thing you did when they entered the exam room was shake their hand. If you have a hard time remembering doing this, it's likely because you did it without thinking, as it's firmly ingrained in our society that handshakes are the customary mode of greeting.

Indeed, chances are good that if the physician had declined to shake your hand or instead greeted you with a bow, fist bump or wave that you would have no problem remembering this departure from the norm. As bizarre as this may sound, it's exactly what a group of California-based physicians and medical professionals did as part of a six-month experiment.

Specifically, a UCLA physician conducted a very basic study in which he asked staff members in the neonatal intensive care units at two different hospitals to avoid handshakes, and posted signs indicating that these were handshake-free zones.

The purpose of the experiment wasn't to examine potentially anti-social behavior in the medical community, but rather to examine the ability and willingness of medical professionals to stop engaging in a greeting that can facilitate the spread of germs and, by extension, the transmission of dangerous hospital-acquired infections.

Indeed, he theorized that while most medical professionals do practice proper hand hygiene -- washing, sanitizing, etc. -- they may fail to do it for long enough or frequently enough, coming into contact with such germ vectors as charts, phones and computers before treating patients.

While the study, published in the American Journal of Infection Control, didn't measure whether a no handshaking policy actually reduced the rates of infection -- something the UCLA physician hopes to examine in a future study -- it did find that medical professionals were indeed willing to ditch the handshake and that patients were receptive to the idea when they learned why.

This seems like a good idea when you consider that statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show an average of one in 25 hospital patients will acquire an infection during their stay, and that other studies have found the hands of health care professionals are often to blame for the transmission of potentially deadly pathogens.   

Always remember that if you have been serious injured or lost a loved one to what you believe was some form of medical negligence, you do have options for seeking justice.   

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