A new infection control approach: ‘Handshake-free’ zones

To prevent the spread of infections, some hospitals are turning wards into “handshake-free zones.”

Mark Sklansky, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, for example, launched a pilot to ban handshakes in the neonatal intensive care units of two of UCLA’s hospitals, according to a Kaiser Health News article published by National Public Radio. 

While the ban isn't meant to be a substitute for hand-washing, he believes limiting the number of handshakes in the hospital may curb the spread of infection. The approach was simple and inexpensive: Staff members were educated on the program and signs were posted to mark the NICUs as handshake-free zones.

A study of the pilot didn’t find definitive evidence that avoiding handshakes cut down the spread of infection, but Joanna Parga, M.D., a neonatologist at UCLA who participated in the pilot, said that other options for greeting are more intimate and warm, and that the handshake-free zones open up dialogue about safety and infection control.

Sklansky said the handshake-free zones offer another option in conjunction with more traditional infection control measures, like hand-washing protocols.

"I actually think handshake-free zones will bring attention to the hands as vectors for disease and help improve compliance with hand hygiene," he said.

Critics, however, noted that these programs could encourage hospitals to be lenient with hand-washing protocols, and that the need for handshake-free zones signals poor infection control compliance, according to the article. 

RELATED: CDC: Increase hand-washing to reduce hospital-acquired infections

Effective and widely embraced hand hygiene programs are the cornerstone of any infection control approach, as FierceHealthcare has previously reported, though many hospitals fall short. Multiple organizations have released guidelines to help providers establish hand-washing steps, including the World Health Organization and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology.

Infectious bacteria can linger on any numbers of hospital surfaces, including sinks and the floors in patient rooms. Studies have shown that sinks, in particular, may host deadly superbugs.