Experience of Touch in Health Care: A Meta-Ethnography Across the Health Care Professions

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Abstract

Touch mediates health professionals’ interactions with patients. Different professionals have reported their practices but what is currently lacking is a well-theorized, interprofessional synthesis. We systematically searched eight databases, identified 41 studies in seven professions—nursing (27), medicine (4), physiotherapy (5), osteopathy (1), counseling (2), psychotherapy (1), dentistry (1)—and completed a meta-ethnographic line-of-argument synthesis. This found that touch is caring, exercises power, and demands safe space. Different professions express care through the medium of touch in different ways. They all, however, expect to initiate touch rather than for patients to do so. Various practices negotiate boundaries that define safe spaces between health care professions and patients. A metaphor—the waltz—integrates the practice of touch. Health care professionals connect physically with patients in ways that form strong relationships between them while “dance steps” help manage the risk that is inherent in such an intimate form of connection.

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