Former Vice President Joe Biden has been in some hot water recently because of his habit of hugging some of the people he meets. More generally, in today’s society, some of the casual social touching that once went on, particularly in the workplace, has become out of bounds.
So, is it OK for your doctor to give you a hug? I spotted that subject on Twitter the other day. Rhea Liang, a surgeon in Australia, asked a simple question:
Unsurprisingly, the question received many responses, both from doctors and patients:
Doctor: “‘Cure sometimes, treat often, comfort always.’ – if the situation calls for It”
Patient: “With consent, yes. In my experience touching in general is missing in medicine. I often feel alienated and dehumanized”
Doctor: “Absolutely not. There is a power relationship that makes it difficult for the patient to say no even if asked. It’s impossible for the Doctor to know for sure if it’s ok and they should be able to convey empathy without hugging.”
Patient: “YES. My former Dr (female) would reassure me or comfort me with just a gentle touch on my arm and it meant so much to me. Flip side, ex pain Dr (male) HAD to shake hands before and after and I HATED IT SO MUCH.”
Doctor: “I don’t initiate hugs with patients, but it’s not uncommon for them to hug me”
Patient: “No, because doctors are largely white males”
Doctor: “When the time is right, I hug patients. How do you know? You know….and I usually ask if I’m the one initiating it ‘is it ok if I give you a hug?’. But most of the time, my hugged pts are the ones who hug me (find me with open arms) which I love.”
Patient: “I’m not anti-hug, I just don’t need or expect that sort of support from my medical providers. Other patients may love the idea of being hugged. Whenever someone tells me ‘Don’t use X surgeon because they have horrible bedside manner,’ I let them know that’s not important to me.”
Doctor: “I witnessed a fellow doc go through a unscrupulous lawsuit for a hug, since then a Stern handshake is my go to move.”
Patient: “Yes its OK by me. It’s proof that there is understanding and support when I need it most. If I initiate it, it is proof of my respect for them and thanks for the care they are giving me. There might be ‘free hugs’ but in my world they mean so much.”
Doctor: “Sometimes a hug is the best medicine I can give. And sometimes it is exactly what my patients, and their parents, need”
My neurologist, a woman who’s been treating me for over 15 years, hugs me after every visit. I know she cares about me as a person, not just as a patient. On the other hand, I don’t think I’d feel the same way about a hug from either of the two neuros who treated me long ago. Both are men and hugging just didn’t match their personalities. It wouldn’t have seemed natural for them or me.
What do you think about doctor-patient hugging?
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