The Importance of Touch Communication in Healthcare

April 1, 2021
April 1, 2021

I live about 19 miles from Newtown, CT. One of my healthcare providers is a surviving sibling of one of the adults killed at Sandy Hook elementary school this past December. I saw him yesterday for a checkup and wasn’t sure how I was going to address his loss. I didn’t want to bring up something that I could only imagine was still extremely raw but I did want him to know I cared about him. When I saw him, I just touched his arm and said, “Hello my friend.” 

As I was leaving the office I saw him in the hallway… I wished him a good spring and told him to get out fishing (which I know is a lifelong passion of his). He began to talk about a trip he had just taken and how much it helped. We ended our conversation with a sincere hug. He went on to say that the best comfort available to him in these times is found in the caring touch from others. Words weren’t necessary…but the touch on a shoulder, arm, hand, or hug are now essential to getting through the day.

I have been thinking about the importance of touch since our conversation.

Touch is Valuable in Healthcare

In a society made keenly aware of abuse issues, sexual harassment and now impacted by technology to the nth degree… I fear that human touch in healthcare and elsewhere is limited at best and more than likely limited to task or procedure-related touch.

Touch was first recognized by Aristotle as one of our senses… right along with taste, smell, sight, and hearing. Infant survival depends on it. The positive and real impact of Touch Healing has long been studied and documented. Massage therapy is appreciated by many of you reading this, and hospitals are now starting to include integrated medicine in their programs for patients with cardiac issues, cancer, and chronic pain. Some hospitals have taught all levels of staff gentle hand massage as a rest-inducing or pain-relieving technique for the patients with whom they come in contact. Touch can be reassuring. When we are talking about being a team and “We’ll work on your cancer, heart failure as team”… how much more reassuring would it be to have that message accompanied with a hand being held or a hand on the shoulder? Communication, pain relief, healing (physical and emotional), stress management, improved circulation, and survival all are positively affected by human touch.

Touch is an Important Part of Effective, Caring Communication

So when we are with our patients and their family member, and we are speaking with them, we should use non-verbal communication techniques of looking at them, listening to them, and sealing the deal… with a human touch. I learned very early on in my nursing training that we can’t save everyone and that helping them through whatever their health care experience brings is the gift I could give as a nurse. One year I drew the cover for our Nursing School yearbook… I’ll spare you the art experience….but it was a drawing of two hands which were intended to portray the hands of a nurse—caring hands and hands that help heal.

While we may not return to PM care, complete with patient backrubs, we do need to revive touch as part of the care we give and the way we communicate.

Contact HealthStream to speak to a solutions expert learn more about our courses related to communication in healthcare.