Rituals may be understood broadly as stereotyped behaviours carrying symbolic meanings, which play a crucial role in defining relationships, legitimating authority, giving meaning to certain life events and stabilising social structures . Despite intense interest in the subject, and an extensive literature, relatively little attention has been given to the nature, role and function of ritual in contemporary medicine . Medicine is replete with ritualistic behaviours and imperatives, which play a crucial role in all aspects of clinical practice . Rituals play multiple, complex functions in clinical interactions and have an important role in shaping interactions, experiences and outcomes . Longstanding medical rituals have been disrupted in the wake of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Medical rituals may be evident or invisible, often overlap with or operate alongside instrumentalised practices, and play crucial roles in establishing, maintaining and guaranteeing the efficacy of clinical practices . Rituals can also inhibit progress and change, by enforcing arbitrary authority . Physicians should consider when they are undertaking a ritual practice and recognise when the exigencies of contemporary practice are affecting that ritual with or without meaning or intention . Physicians should reflect on whether aspects of their ritual interactions are undertaken on the basis of sentiment, custom or evidence-based outcomes, and whether rituals should be defended, continued in a modified fashion or even abandoned in favour of new behaviours suitable for and salient with contemporary practice in the interests of patient care.