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Is it a good idea to hug a patient if the patient asks.

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Aunty Nurse
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Joined: Sat Oct 19, 2013 1:29 pm

Is it a good idea to hug a patient if the patient asks.

Unread post by Aunty Nurse » Wed Dec 03, 2014 10:44 am

A hug may or may not be acceptable. The person who has the right to make that determination is the patient. Nurses are expected to interact with patients in an empathetic way that supports the patient's healing or wellness. Nurses are not required to hug patients when patients ask for a hug. Nor are nurses required to turn down a request for a hug. Each nurse needs to evaluate each request from the standpoint of what is best for the patient, balanced with the risk to the nurse.

The risk to a nurse is that a patient may perceive the hug differently from the nurse. A nurse might perceive a hug as nonsexual, nonpainful, and nonfrightening but a patient may experience it as threatening, sexual, painful, and/or frightening. Sometimes a nurse can assess a patient and a situation and make a decision that it would be appropriate to hug; the interaction is successful and everyone is happy. But sometimes a nurse can't know what is going on from the patient's side or may assess inaccurately.

Criminal laws provide the basis for punishing individuals who touch others without consent or who frighten others by a threat of unwanted touching. If a patient asks for a hug, the patient is giving permission for a certain type of touching. However, the nurse must then worry about whether the hug was longer than the patient wanted, or too tight and therefore frightening, or that the nurse's hands or body weren't exactly where the patient expected them to be. Any time a nurse touches a patient in a way that isn't required for caregiving, the nurse takes a risk.

On the other hand, some argue that it can be untherapeutic to turn down a patient who asks for a hug. That may be the case, but there are many ways to get out of hugging, and a nurse who decides not to hug should have a polite response at the ready

If a nurse wants to be really safe legally, then don't hug patients. If a nurse wants to respond empathetically when a patient asks for a hug, then go ahead and hug, realizing that there is a slight risk that the patient or someone else will think it inappropriate.

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