Health and Science  

Why You Should Ask Your Doctor to Wash Their Hands

The perceived authority of physicians can lead people to be more susceptible to illness, as it leaves many patients reluctant to confront doctors on matters of hygiene.

For health care providers, it is critical that they wash their hands to ensure the health and well-being of their patients. It’s so important than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that patients request their provider cleanse in front of them before proceeding with an exam.

Yet some patients remain reluctant to make this request, according to a new study out of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications by Debbie Treise, senior associate dean of the Division of Graduate Studies and research professor in the Department of Advertising, Michael Weigold, associate dean for Undergraduate Affairs and Enrollment Management, Kristina Birnbrauer, Ph.D. student, and Denise Schain, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida. These results will be published in the September 2016 journal Health Communication.

The authors found that patients who place a high value on proper respect for authority and those who are anxious in social situations are particularly resistant to the CDC’s recommendation.

In the study, 250 post-surgical, hospitalized patients were asked to view one of five videos showing an interaction between a doctor and a patient. Some videos showed doctors forgetting to wash their hands, while others showed patients reminding doctors to wash and getting either an agreeable or disagreeable response.

After seeing one of the videos, participants were asked a series of questions regarding their attitudes toward the doctor and patient in the video. They also included their feelings about respect for authority figures and their own comfort levels in social interactions.

Participants also shared their attitudes toward the importance of health care providers’ hand washing in keeping patients safe and whether they would ask a doctor to wash his or her hands before continuing with an exam.

While patients understood that proper cleansing was important in maintaining sanitary conditions in the exam room, more than half were unwilling to ask the doctor to wash in front of them.

Two groups of people in particular stood out as unwilling to ask a health care provider to wash: people who value authority (making them reluctant to challenge high-status doctors) and people who tend to be anxious in social settings (people who are uncomfortable simply because they were interacting with others).

Because people may differ in their motivations for failing to speak up, different communications strategies may be necessary to encourage patients to ask healthcare providers to cleanse in front of them.


Posted: August 15, 2016