Fist-Bump Your Doctor During Cold and Flu Season

Looking for a way to greet your patients but limit the spread of cold and flu? Citing a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, TMA member Jason Marchetti, MD, has your answer!

His project for the TMA Leadership College is an outreach campaign reminding people about the need for hygiene measures, especially during flu season, and to introduce the fist bump as a scientifically validated greeting method that can decrease germ transmission dramatically during hand-to-hand contact. The campaign involves putting up educational posters in the waiting room and exam rooms to share this information with patients and encouraging this more hygienic greeting approach. In his own practice, Dr. Marchetti has found patients, young and old, have embraced the campaign enthusiastically.

A physical medicine and rehabilitation physician from Denton, Dr. Marchetti says, "This has all of the qualities of an ideal medical intervention: It's free, it's safe, and it can be done easily by everyone."

The study cited, "The Fist Bump: A More Hygienic Alternative to the Handshake," was published in August 2014 in the American Journal of Infection Control. Researchers at the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in Ceredigion, United Kingdom, conducted a basic experiment looking at the transmittance of benign bacteria between hands. They looked at a "regular" as well as "strong" handshake, and then compared them to a fist bump. Strong handshakes (firmer pressure, longer grip duration) had double the transmittance versus a regular handshake, while a fist bump (with low pressure, brief contact, less surface area) only had 25 percent the transmittance. Their conclusion: "For the sake of improving public health, we should adopt this more hygienic alternative to the handshake." 

A previous study, "Reducing Pathogen Transmission in a Hospital Setting. Handshake Versus Fist Bump: A Pilot Study," was published in 2013 in the Journal of Hospital Infection. Conducted at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, this study found that "as many as 80% of individuals retain some disease-causing bacteria after washing." They also noted the decreased surface area and contact time of a fist bump further reduced bacterial transmission compared to handshaking. Their conclusion was similar: "We have determined that implementing the fist bump in the health care setting may further reduce bacterial transmission between health care providers."

While the spread of viral transmission has not been specifically studied, common sense would suggest similar factors are at play with viruses (surface area, duration of contact, pressure) as far as transmittance factors.

"The only barrier to widespread adoption is removing the cultural stigma of the fist bump as uncouth. My aim with this campaign is to help reduce that stigma and to expose other medical providers to these data, which they might not have come across otherwise," says Dr. Marchetti.

"So far, in my own practice, I've been pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm of patients; even my little old ladies smile and offer me a fist bump. I've printed flyers and put them in my exam rooms. Most patients notice them and even remind me to fist-bump in cases where I've forgotten and went to offer a handshake. It's been great!"

To download fist bump posters and flyers in various sizes for your office or waiting room, visit the TMA website.

Action, Nov. 2, 2015

Last Updated On

June 17, 2016