Is It OK for Your Doctor to Hug You?

Is It OK for Your Doctor to Hug You?

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:

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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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Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.
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Ed Tobias is a retired broadcast journalist. Most of his 40+ year career was spent as a manager with the Associated Press in Washington, DC. Tobias was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1980 but he continued to work, full-time, meeting interesting people and traveling to interesting places, until retiring at the end of 2012.

12 comments

  1. RG says:

    I would appreciate a hug from any doctor who I have seen for a while, one who gave me serious news, one who finds me in tears, one who has treated me through a surgery or serious illness. I would not want one from a doctor I had just met. I want to know my doc cares about “me”. Also, I live alone so the comfort of touch is missing in my life.

  2. Jane Vorndran says:

    The neurologist who diagnosed me with MS looked so sad when he told me my diagnosis. He hugged me when he left and I felt so comforted by it. It’s funny because I felt relief to find out what was wrong that I almost felt like I was comforting the doctor for having to deliver the news! Anyway, I like being treated as a person, not a number.

  3. Janet says:

    Yes, can you and the doctor not feel a sincere hug?
    With all the world’s problems and MS problems I refuse to let a hug or not hug be an issue.
    I will take a genuine hug any day and from anyone.
    If you are offended then do not return. It is not complicated.

  4. Pamela says:

    I think most Dr’s know which patient are in need of a hug. I think compassion is one thing this world needs. Patients with a diseased body go through much. Myself I am living with 4 diseases in my body. My Dr is a believer in Jesus Christ and that means everything to me. We both do understand that I can be healed, but we also know that the Lord gives knowledge to the doctors and medications that can also be of help to their patients. It takes all of us working together to live our best life and know that we all can make a difference in this world by the way we treat each other. We are a very blessed people!

    Pamela

  5. Nikki says:

    My neurologist has hugged me at every single visit I’ve ever had with her. We speak completely frankly and she’s very reassuring. Her diminutive size reminds me of a hug from my mom. Always makes me feel better.

  6. Susan Forrester says:

    I absolutely find it ok for an MD to hug after asking persmission. I am a nurse and ask my parients, after we build a rapport if I may hug them. Most people say, “Yes, please!” and “Thank you. I needed that!” Part of being a “care giver” is being human and patients appreciate the compassion. You can usually tell by body language whether the person is open and comfortable but you should always ask.

  7. Wendy Ireland says:

    I have heaps of cuddles from my GP. She has been there with me thru a large number of set backs eg; bad relapses. This lady is my Doctor but also a friend, for which I’m honored to have her in my life. She’s available 24/7 whenever I need her. I don’t ring, I just wait for an acceptable time & text her.

  8. Judi Stoker says:

    I always shake hands at the beginning and end of every appointment, but there are some doctors, and nurses, whom I always hug instead. I have never had a doctor initiate a hug, but when I do, they are gladly receptive. You can usually tell when, and whom, it’s ok to approach. What’s more important than that is trust. I implicitly trust my care team and they empower me to be an active member of that team. Mutual care and respect is the foundation of any good relationship and it’s paramount when dealing with serious illnesses like MS.

  9. “No because doctors are largely white males?” I am not a doctor hugger unless initiated by the doctor, which is rarely. However, their race and sex are the very last thing on my mind.

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