Blog Post Series 3

Healing Touch: Touch as the secret to medical adherence?

Patients who don’t listen to their doctors have been a part of widely known problem of nonadherence. When patients don’t comply, it’s a lose-lose situation. Doctors lose valuable time and patients don’t get better. But psychologists have found a possible way to solve this through the power of touch.  

Touch is a fundamental part of human experience. From the moment we are born until the present, touch allows us to explore the world making an impact on our lives in numerous ways. It can impact our emotional state by conveying security be it in the form of a pat in the back or a warm hug. But aside from emotional health, can touch also make us feel better physically?

Across several studies, touch has been shown to encourage compliance in different social situations. It can make people return lost money, give larger tips, or spend more time fulfilling a request (Hertenstein, 2007). Apparently, touch can also make patients listen to their doctor’s advice better according to a recent study.

In an experiment by Guéguen, Meineri, and Charles-Sire (2010), touch has been shown to improve patient compliance. 326 patients who were diagnosed with pharyngitis was split into two groups, the first receiving tactile contact from the doctor and the other with a simple verbal request. In both conditions, the doctor was asked to say‘‘It’s very important for you to take your medication in order to prevent a recurrence’’. The first group, however received 1 to 2 seconds of a slight touch in their forearm. 7 days later, patients who received tactile contact had lesser pills left in their medicine box.

While this study presents a possible way to make patients comply, it also has limitations. For instance, the effect of touch may differ for different illnesses, different dosage or type of medicine. In some countries, touch may be used frequently or infrequently depending on social norms. Culture may even be factor that can still be explored. Nonetheless, this study provides an interesting perspective to touch, one of our senses we usually take for granted. We can look at how actions, in this case touch can speak louder than words or at least get the message across better.


Featured studies:

Hertenstein, M. J. (2007). The communicative functions of touch in humans, nonhuman primates, and rats: a review and synthesis of the empirical research. Washington, DC: Heldref.

Guéguen, N., Meineri, S., & Charles-Sire, V. (2010). Improving medication adherence by using practitioner nonverbal techniques: a field experiment on the effect of touch. Journal of Behavioral Medicine,33(6), 466-473. doi:10.1007/s10865-010-9277-5



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