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Making it more likely you’ll be heard doctor

Background Good communication skills are integral to successful doctor–patient relationships. Communication may be verbal or non-verbal, and touch is a significant component, which has received little attention in the primary care literature. Touch may be procedural (part of a clinical task) or expressive (contact unrelated to a procedure/examination).

Aim To explore GPs’ and patients’ experiences of using touch in consultations.

Design and setting Qualitative study in urban and semi-rural areas of north-west England.

Method Participating GPs recruited registered patients with whom they felt they had an ongoing relationship. Data were collected by semi-structured interviews and subjected to constant comparative qualitative analysis.

Results All participants described the importance of verbal and non-verbal communication in developing relationships. Expressive touch was suggested to improve communication quality by most GPs and all patients. GPs reported a lower threshold for using touch with older patients or those who were bereaved, and with patients of the same sex as themselves. All patient responders felt touch on the hand or forearm was appropriate. GPs described limits to using touch, with some responders rarely using anything other than procedural touch. In contrast, most patient responders believed expressive touch was acceptable, especially in situations of distress. All GP responders feared misinterpretation in their use of touch, but patients were keen that these concerns should not prevent doctors using expressive touch in consultations.

Conclusion Expressive touch improves interactions between GPs and patients. Increased educational emphasis on the conscious use of expressive touch would enhance clinical communication and, hence, perhaps patient wellbeing and care.

Simon Cocksedge, Bethan George, Sophie Renwick and Carolyn A Chew-Graham
British Journal of General Practice

Photo by Jesper Aggergaard on Unsplash

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