This site is intended for health professionals only

GPs urged to touch patients during consultations

GPs have been encouraged to touch patients ‘expressively’ in consultations to help make patients more relaxed, say researchers.

The study

The qualitative analysis included 15 GPs and 11 patients was carried in practices in Greater Manchester and north Derbyshire. Each doctor was interviewed and asked to contact one or two patients with a long-term condition, with whom they considered they had an ongoing relationship. Semi-structured interviews with patients analysed their opinions regarding improving communication with GPs.

The findings

Patients said non-verbal empathic listening was particularly important for good communication, and using touch was also suggested to improve communication quality for all patients and most GPs. GPs reported that touch signified politeness, warmth and helped make a clinical encounter more relaxed.  Touching as part of a clinical task was noted as being reassuring by GPs, and often both procedural and expressive. However, some GPs felt the use of anything other than procedural touch had situational limits, while the majority of patient responders believed touch would be well received. Both patients and GPs felt that touch on the hand and forearm was acceptable, but not elsewhere.

What does it mean for GPs?

The authors felt that ‘raising doctors’ awareness about the potential for consciously using expressive touch in consultations will provide GPs with another tool to improve doctor-patients communication.’ They added that the data ‘suggest that increased educational emphasis on the conscious use of expressive touch would enhance clinical communication.’

BGJP 2013, online 25 February