Is It Ever OK for Patients to Hug the Doctor?

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MAYWOOD, Ill.—We’ve all had those awkward moments of wondering "Should I go in for the hug? I’m not a hugger, what should I do?" This is compounded in the medical setting. Is it ever alright for a patient to hug a doctor?

The patient/physician relationship thrives on open, trusted communication, yet there needs to be clear-set boundaries. This delicate balance, however, can often result in some gray areas.

“Even in our current high-tech medicine age, it is clear that the relationship between the patient and caregiver is of therapeutic benefit," said Mark Kuczewski, PhD, director of the Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Health Policy, Loyola University Chicago. "Still, professional boundaries need to be established. A simple matter such as hugging is complex because being a doctor or a nurse is a complex role that combines job skills and one’s very being."

A clinical setting can be a place of highly charged emotions. This is where life- and-death information is discussed and exchanged. Just being in this environment can have strong emotional implications and a patient will need reassurance, comfort and support. When encountering these awkward moments, there are a few things to take into consideration.

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