Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hugging Patients

Is it appropriate for doctors to hug patients when they ask to be hugged? This is more than a theoretical question for me. A number of my patients ask for hugs.

Just yesterday, a patient told me that that I was the first doctor ever who actually took the time to listen carefully to everything that bothered her. She was 78. She had a lot to say and I listened patiently, only interrupting when I had something of value to add. After taking in the full scope of her situation, we developed a prevention plan focused on keeping her healthy and in good spirits for years to come. When we were done, she asked for a hug.

People want to know that someone cares. Some may look to a religious figure for such empathy, while many hope to get it from their doctors. Unfortunately, the time pressures put on so many doctors make it difficult to give patients the time and attention so many crave. I am privileged to be able to afford the luxury of time with my patients. For me, it is a pleasure to hear life stories, although some are heartbreaking, in order to learn as much as can be reasonably learned about the individual sitting in front of me. I get the full megillah and relish it.

It amazes me what colorful lives so many have lived and how sharing their anecdotes enhances both the speaker and the listener. I feel bad that most doctors can't enjoy this level of interaction and satisfaction. Medicine is a noble profession, but many regulatory and reimbursement changes have made its practice less enjoyable for many practitioners. That's too bad because they are really missing something special.

For my patients, if you want a hug, just let me know. They are free and I have plenty to give.


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