In 2014, a shocking Danish study found 1 in 5 surgeons to NOT wash their hands after using the restroom.
The medical field did not particularly like this study as it was observational in which 10 of the 50 surgeons observed at a bathroom during a US medical conference failed to wash their hands.
Nonetheless, this caused an immediate stir, raising the question why would surgeons wash their hands less than other specialists? Was it because they scrub prior to operating hence not find the need to wash after using the bathroom necessary? Incidentally, medical scribes appeared to have a higher rate of handwashing, with 98% washing after bathroom use.
Fast forward to 2018, when the CDC reported that 1 in 31 patients acquires an infection from their hospital stay.
And multiple studies have found lab coats to be contaminated with pathogens.
Which begs the question…. what exactly occurs when a physician uses the bathroom?
Is the White Coat off or on when doctors potty?
Lab coats are worn by the majority of healthcare professionals. And usually they are removed and placed on the desk chair prior to a jaunt to the restroom.
However if a medical provider walks down a hall, and realizes he/she needs to relieve themselves, do they wear their white coat into the restroom?
Some male physicians may stand at the urinal in full garb, as there usually is not a coat rack by the sinks. As long as they flush and run, they might be in the clear, but is there a risk of splatter?
Female physicians likewise can sully their coat if they “lift and squat” while sitting on the toilet. Most female bathroom doors do have a coat hanger within the stall, so they can place the coat on the hook.
If the rare instance occurs where I am urgently running into a bathroom with knees pressed together, I prefer to throw my coat over the side of the door so anyone in the bathroom can see I wasn’t wearing my coat on the potty.
But then what about scrubs?
Do doctors wear scrubs when they potty? Yes… but any other person on this earth will wear his clothes to and from the bathroom so let’s not get carried away…..
The white coat is a big issue as we hold our prescription pens, stethoscopes and other medical gadgets in the pockets.
Do doctors wash their hands after using the bathroom?
In my years of hospital and clinic work, I’ve observed at least a 99% use of bathroom sinks after using the restroom. And, even though I don’t frequent the men’s bathroom, while waiting for some to exit, I see the men wave their hands dry and finish using their paper towel. So the answer is a resounding YES!
So why the discrepancy with the 2014 study? Because it was done at a conference and not in a medical setting. There is a possibility that healthcare providers, when not around patients, may be a little more lax in their hygiene.
So if in doubt, you’re free to find out. Asking your provider if he/she washed their hands after zipping up might be a little awkward. However, asking them if they washed their hands prior to coming into the exam room is perfectly fine and acceptable.
The average provider will NOT be insulted as we understand the importance of good hand washing.
But don’t just limit your interrogation to the physician. The next time someone serves you a burger without gloves, well…………
Daliah Wachs, MD, FAAFP is a nationally syndicated radio personality on GCN Network, KDWN, and iHeart Radio.