Death of the Handshake

Physicians have been taught about the power of touch. Look a patient in the eye. Give them a strong handshake. Good patient care has shown that patients have a better experience when you sit down. They often report that a physician spent more time with the patient if the physician was seated and was close to the patient. Physicians were called healers before medical schools existed. The laying on of hands and healing has been known for thousands of years. Touch is one of the senses that is controlled by many different areas of the brain. For years I have checked every patient’s pulse myself to begin the process of laying on of hands.
The laying on of hands has been slowing going away. My mentor taught me every physical exam skill that existed. They all had names from the McMurray’s and Rovsing’s and no one will forget the Dix-Hallpike. But we have worried that these skills are diminished in younger physicians. Because of more lab tests and MRI’s and CT scans. As opposed to a thorough history and exam we just scan bellies at this time. We need to preserve these skills and the art of touch.
Or should we? The coronavirus is here, and our lives have been changed. We immediately have started doing telemedicine. We will see patients in the office by only if they are not sick. If you have a fever or cough instead of an exam trying to find a cause, we have transitioned to encouraging patients to hide in their basements. As an outpatient family physician, we are trying to treat the ill while staying healthy ourselves. Hospital based employees are out there everyday seeing sick patients while in PPE trying to get minimal touch/exposure to the patients they are seeing. It is hard to look at someone closely with a mask and goggles on.
The handshake is dead. A pandemic killed the handshake. Likely for the better. But hopefully the laying on of hands will return. It has been hard times, but I am excited for the day that I can hug a patient that is struggling. The handshake may be dead. But hugs will last forever.

The Doc Is In

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