Richard Horton, ’Comment – Offline: Touch—the first language’,, The Lancet (October 12, 2019)

The idea of survival

Why don’t doctors touch patients anymore? (…) Should we mourn or celebrate the demise of the laying on of hands? (…) The avoidance of touch is bad medicine. I am as enthralled as anyone else by new medical technologies. I honour (indeed now depend upon) the discovery of new medicines to manage previously untreatable conditions. I admire the achievements of doctors in an ever­more pressured clinical environment. But a clinical examination is not only about eliciting evidence to piece together a differential diagnosis. The clinical examination, and the central place of touch in that examination, is about fostering a physical and mental connection between doctor and patient. Touch signifies the human nature of the predicament patient and doctor both face. Touch humanises that predicament. Touch builds trust, reassurance, and a sense of communion. (…) Touch can even convey the idea of survival. (…) Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth. (…) It’s time to bring back touch into medicine.