To Hug or Not to Hug?

Date: April 1, 2012      Publication: Bottom Line Health      Source: Mark  Kuczewski      Print:

Q. Is it ever acceptable to hug my doctor?

A. If a patient has developed a rapport with a caregiver, he/she may reach out for a sign of support such as a hug. If it seems natural and unforced, it may be helpful and probably of no real concern. Still, it’s good to remember that professional distance is important in the physician/patient relationship.

A patient is usually the less powerful person in the physician-patient relationship, and hugs are less likely to be threatening to the physician. Of course, social and demographic context matter—an elderly, female patient who hugs any younger physician is less likely to make the physician uncomfortable than a young, adult male patient who hugs a female physician of a similar age. So, be sensitive to context cues. But, by all means, if you spontaneously hug your doctor after, say, he tells you that your scan came back cancer-free, I wouldn’t worry about it. There’s no reason to deny a patient or physician a moment that can bring healing, especially in a life-or-death situation. Besides, if your doctor feels uncomfortable, he can always extend a hand for a handshake.

Source: Mark Kuczewski, PhD, director of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics & Health Policy, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.