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In most hospitals in the UK, it is prohibited for clinicians or visitors to sit on patients' beds in the interests of infection control. In this week's BMJ, Iona Heath, President of the RCGP, argues:
"Doctors should never be discouraged from sitting, because patients consistently estimate that they have been given more time when the doctor sits down rather than stands. Standing makes the conversation seem hurried even when it is not; and, in the hospital setting, sitting on the chair does not seem to work nearly as well, because the levels are somehow all wrong. Some of the most intimate and effective interactions between doctor and patient that I have either witnessed or experienced have occurred while the doctor has been sitting on the patient’s bed. Such interactions are precious and should be made easier rather than more difficult."
Although I see Iona's point about forming more personal patient relationships, I am inclined to agree with the rule against sitting on patients' beds. If I was in a hospital bed I wouldn't be keen for someone with outdoor clothes to sit down on the sheets I sleep in. Surely pulling a chair close to the bedside would be as effective for patient-doctor communication? I recently caught rotavirus from merely having dinner at my sister's (who caught it from the paeds ward she works on). No, she didn't sit on my bed with her scrubs on, but hopefully this makes the reasons I think in-hospital bed-sitting is a bad idea.
Having said all that, I can recall sitting on patients' beds several times - taking histories, bloods etc, usually when chairs weren't readily to hand though, and I would always think twice about it before giving in to the urge to sit instead of kneel or stand.