Pandemics and Politeness

I have learned the Western Way of politeness: when meeting a stranger look them in the eye and give a firm handshake.  I do this quite a lot in this ‘patient satisfaction’ world, shaking the hands of not just the patients but also their families.  (And sometimes you’d think I’d learn).

I’m wondering if we need some sort of socially acceptable way to say ‘I’d shake your hand but given that this is a hospital where illness concentrates, let’s not’.   Seems like a good tradeoff from a risk-benefit standpoint.

Yes, I use the alcohol-based foam gels between patients, and when I pass a dispenser, and when I think about it.  I’m pretty obsessive about it.  I’m not advocating not touching patients appropriately, just seems like something we should be able to change.


  1. Well, sometimes I do this by introducing myself to the patient and the family while I’m rubbing alcohol foam on my hands. (Our dispensers are the foam kind and are right outside the doors.) I’m not sure the introduction has quite as nice an effect that way (but I’ve also learned a surprising number of patients have no interest in shaking hands, preferring instead to keep them curled up under the covers). It does get the point acrosss, though, about hospitals being a dirty place, and if a patient or family member does extend a hand after I’m done, then at least they’re clean on my end.

  2. As a patient, I don’t want to shake hands– it’s not a business meeting. But I definitely expect to be introduced to any new personnel in the room (assistant, my new doc, etc).

    I work at a laundromat(ie, handling peoples’ laundry) and I’ve had guys try to be flirty and shake/kiss MY hand. Ewww! I’d put that one under the heading of “Things that are their own punishment”.

  3. Perhaps it’s not too late to resurrect the Victorian custom of nodding one’s head in an extremely abbreviated bow upon introductions and greetings. One of my older doctors does this actually.

  4. While I’d never consider it myself, the fist bump is fashionable

  5. TheNewGuy says:

    I always shake hands. It’s just a habit.

    Of course, I wash them like a maniac too…

  6. Given the flu epidemic here in Mexico City we are all just waving hello now instead of shaking hands, huging or kissing!

  7. nurse 1961 says:

    Good to here you are keeping your hands clean without me walking around with my clipboard and observing.

    Although it does seem to get more people washing, foaming, and gelling.