Hospitals are about to implement a "bare below the elbows" dress code policy for doctors, which includes a ban on wristwatches. But researchers in this week's BMJ warn that this could be potentially dangerous in a clinical setting.
There is no evidence that wristwatches are carriers of infection, and little account has been made of the clinical benefits of the wristwatch, write James Henderson and Sarah McCracken.
Most beds and examination couches in hospitals do not currently allow sight of a clock, so they set out to assess the dependence placed on wristwatches.
Twenty appropriately trained staff were asked to evaluate different pulse and respiratory rates on a simulated patient without the use of a second hand. Participants were given as much time as they wanted to make their estimate.
Estimates for a pulse rate of 83 ranged from 60 to 120, and estimates for a respiratory rate of 14 ranged from 10 to 28, showing that it was often not possible for healthcare professionals even to distinguish normal from abnormal without the use of a second hand.
Only one participant gave values for each reading that would not have been potentially dangerous.
This study highlights the necessity for doctors to have sight of a second hand when assessing patients, say the authors, especially in emergency situations where a clock might not be present.
If trusts wish to persist with the banning of wristwatches, they will be obliged to provide each bedspace with its own clock with a second hand, they add. Yet the same guidelines commend the wearing of soft soled shoes to avoid "disturbing patients' rest."
The sound of a thousand clocks ticking might be rather more than a little disturbing, they conclude.