I recently saw a doctor who, after entering the room, only used hand sanitizer. As her gown looked dirty, I stopped her from touching me and asked:

Doctor, is handwashing more effective than hand sanitizer?

I already knew that handwashing is more effective; I was only trying to be tactful. She replied:

Oh, hand sanitizer's fine. So let's start the examination.

I tried to insist politely:

I'd feel cushier with handwashing.

But she looked offended, and replied gruffly:

Look. I don't have time. I have other patients waiting. Do you want to start or not?

How could I've communicated my preference that she washes her hands, without offending her?

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    I think the title made it clear that it was a question and not just a complaint, but I have edited it to hopefully make it more clear that it was indeed a question.
    – Link0352
    Jun 15 '18 at 13:14
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a thinly veiled rant. Jun 15 '18 at 17:12
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    I think there are a few things that people are getting hung up on, here that clarification would help out. You call this generically a "procedure", which, I think makes a lot of people think of some sort of surgical procedure - particularly as you call this doctor a "surgeon". Both of these things seem to cause people to draw the conclusion that some sort of surgery is being performed in this appointment - which doesn't make sense if the doctor isn't wearing gloves. You don't have to explain the "procedure" specifically but some clarification of what is happening would help.
    – Catija
    Jun 15 '18 at 21:34
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    Because of this confusion, I'm going to close this question as "unclear what you're asking" If this is an actual surgical procedure, this is a health matter, not one of interpersonal skills. If it's a basic checkup with your GP and they're doing the normal things like checking pulse, ears, listening to lungs, heart etc, then it's your personal preference - which you have the right to ask for - but isn't/shouldn't be based on medical "rules".
    – Catija
    Jun 15 '18 at 21:36
  • @Catija Sorry. I edited OP. Is this clear now? This was a checkup, not surgery.
    – NNOX Apps
    Jun 16 '18 at 0:10

I'm a doctor, and this applies particularly to the US.

If a physician 'asked' me,

Look. I don't have time. I have other patients waiting. Do you want to start or not?

I'd say, "&#%$, no!", report them to the head of their department, and leave.

If you're looking for a polite way to get the person to bend to your will, just ask very nicely again. You can't do more. There are no magic words (with the possible exception of "Press Ganey") that will force your doctor to do anything.

Edited to reflect OP's edits:

Handwashing is better at removing pathogens from hands if it is done long enough and properly. However, that takes time (which is an increasingly precious commodity medicine today), and most physicians don't take the time to do it properly. In light of that fact, hand sanitizer is actually more effective than bad handwashing (with caveats.) But that's not what you're asking. You want to know how to ask a physician to wash their hands without offending them.

This is a fact: most doctors are happy to make their patients happy. If you feel uncomfortable, just speak up, be polite, and take "the blame"/responsibility for your feelings.

I'm sorry to ask, but I'm a bit of a germophobe. I know you used hand sanitizer, but would you mind terribly washing your hands? I'd feel so much better.

People can argue facts ('hand sanitizer is just as good'), but they can't argue feelings ('you feel fine with my use of sanitizer only'). If you make it clear that it's your feelings compelling you to ask, there really shouldn't be a problem.

If there is, I'd get the &#%$ outta there and report them to the head of their department.

Regardless of what's more effective, patient feelings matter. In the ER, I'd see what seemed like a ton of patients, sometimes the same ones several times before they left the ED. But I never touched a patient without washing my hands in front of them, which was not terribly important from a pathogen point of view, as I always washed after seeing a patient as well. But it was a matter of respect and consideration.

Sometimes my hands would get so raw that they'd crack and bleed. In that case, I would ask the patient if they minded if I skipped the handwashing and wore gloves instead, explaining why I didn't want to wash my hands (lest they think I thought they were too dirty to touch.) I never had a patient refuse that request.

My point is, a patient's feelings matter. If a physician is rude to you, unless it is an emergency, don't put up with it. If they don't care about your feelings, they may not care about other things either (like their quality of care.) I know some rude physicians who I would trust with my life, but they are few and far between.

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    The National Insitute for Clinical Excellence guidelines for hand hygiene for British healthcare workers states that alcohol based handrub is sufficient for most circumstances unless certain clinical situations are met.nice.org.uk/guidance/qs61/chapter/… Not knowing the precise nature of the nature of Greek-Area 51s consultation we cannot know if hand washing was compulsory for the particular circumstance they were in. Was it an examination an actual surgical procedure.
    – Sarriesfan
    Jun 15 '18 at 21:08
  • This is a tricky issue. In hospital rooms, there are dispensers on the inside and outside of the room. When nurses sanitize using the outside dispenser then it is visible to everyone but the patient that the nurse has sanitized. When nurses sanitize using the inside the dispenser the sanitation is only visible to the patients. Given infinite time, nurses should sanitize before entering a room, immediately after entering a room, before exiting a room, and immediately after exiting a room. The goal is not merely that their hands are sanitary but that everyone sees their hands are sanitary.
    – emory
    Jun 15 '18 at 21:12
  • I think there may be some terminology issues here. The OP (I think) is in Europe and "surgery" is used to refer to just a doctor's office at times. I agree that it's unlikely that a medical professional would do a procedure bare handed but they would probably do a general checkup, which may be what the OP is referring to... at this point, it's pretty unclear, so I've closed the question. Hopefully it will be clarified.
    – Catija
    Jun 15 '18 at 22:48
  • @Catija - I did not know that! (Though I perhaps ought to have, being a fan of Doc Martin) Strange, though, why would a doctor in an office be wearing a dirty "gown"? The terminology is confusing indeed. Jun 16 '18 at 4:02
  • @emory - Your process doesn't make sense. Anyone entering the room should wash or use hand sanitizer once inside the room (after touching the handle but before touching the patient.) When they leave the room, they should again use hand sanitizer outside in order not to spread pathogens they may have picked up from the patient. There's no reason to use it outside before entering, unless they squirt some into their hands and push the door open with their bums. Your way would mean twice as much sanitizer as necessary. Jun 16 '18 at 5:03

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