No wonder robots are replacing doctors: A “comforting embrace” has been warned against, in case it’s “misinterpreted”
09/22/2018 // Tracey Watson // Views

In a world with increasingly bizarre restrictions and rules about how to address people, what is or isn’t politically correct, and how to protect yourself from the censure of others, new guidelines regarding the way doctors should interact with their patients seem to push the issue to a level that is beyond ridiculous.

The Daily Mail recently reported that the Medical Defence Union (MDU), the organization responsible for representing medical practitioners in malpractice lawsuits in the U.K., has urged doctors to avoid hugging clients in case these patients get the wrong idea and sue them for harassment.

Perhaps spurred on by the #MeToo movement, which has seen people from all walks of life come forward to report cases of sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere, the MDU advises that doctors “err on the side of caution,” and keep a distinct distance from their patients “to avoid embarrassment.”

Doctors have been advised to offer a handshake rather than any other comforting gesture such as a hug or touching the patient’s shoulder in a consoling way.

But what if the grateful patient tries to hug their doctor? Said doctor should be “firm” in refusing a hug from such a patient, particularly if they suspect the client may have “amorous feelings” for them. Furthermore, they should explain to the patient that their behavior is inappropriate and oversteps professional boundaries.

And, if the doctor is not successfully able to dodge the hug, they should document the “unwilling embrace” to protect themselves legally.


“Doctors must be able to comfort and show human compassion to their patients, but physical contact can easily be misinterpreted, particularly if coupled with other words or actions the patient may feel are inappropriate,” said Dr. Ellie Mein, a legal adviser at the MDU. “This can trigger a complaint or even lead to an investigation by the General Medical Council or the police. If the patient initiates the hug it can also be difficult for the doctor to know what to do, especially if the patient is upset.”

Mein advises weighing up the circumstances and considering such factors as the patient’s age and gender. She insists, however, that this is an area “fraught with problems,” and that doctors should protect themselves by being cautious. She notes that while a hug is meant to offer comfort, some patients might misconstrue their doctor’s actions and, as such, hugs are best avoided. She believes that “offering a patient your hand” instead can prevent misunderstandings, embarrassment and accusations of unprofessional conduct.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest evidence of the fear doctors live under when it comes to malpractice lawsuits.

HealthLine reported last year that overtreatment of patients is common because doctors are terrified that they will be accused of missing something and be sued by a patient. The article cited a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, in which 2,106 physicians completed online surveys regarding the overtreatment of patients. The consensus was that about 20 percent of all medical care in the U.S. is totally unnecessary, including 25 percent of tests, 22 percent of prescription medications and 11 percent of procedures.

Over 85 percent of the doctors surveyed said the reason for this overtreatment was a direct fear of being sued for malpractice. (Related: Doctors admit that at least 20 percent of medical care is NOT needed but is administered anyway thanks to fear of lawsuits.)

An article in the Daily Mail by NHS psychiatrist Dr. Max Pemberton, puts the whole “doctors shouldn’t hug their patients” issue in perspective.

He recounted the experience of a long-standing patient who came into his office visibly upset after her daughter had died in a car accident earlier in the week. Having known the patient for many years, Dr. Pemberton was devastated for her, and knowing that no words could adequately convey his feelings, he gave her a hug. She then flung her arm over his shoulder and cried uncontrollably.

He added, “What should I have done? Pushed her away? Told her that it was not appropriate to touch me? Of course not, because it was perfectly appropriate.”

Referring to the MDU’s latest directives, Pemberton said, “Have they lost the plot? ‘Oh, your daughter’s just died, let me shake you by the hand.’”

If society continues to make doctors “scared of their own shadows,” we may soon find ourselves with nobody to turn to when we urgently need medical attention for ourselves or our loved ones. Discover more unbelievable stories at

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