Experience of touch in healthcare: a meta-ethnography across the healthcare professions

Martina Ann Kelly, Lara Nixon, Caitlin McClurg, Albert Scherpbier, Nigel King, Timothy Dornan

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31 Citations (Scopus)
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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), counselling (2), psychotherapy (1), dentistry (1)) and completed a metaethnographic 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 healthcare professions and patients. A metaphor - the waltz – integrates the practice of touch. Healthcare professionals connect physically with patients in ways that form strong relationships between them whilst ‘dance steps’ help manage the risk that is inherent in such an intimate form of connection.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
JournalQualitative Health Research
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2017


  • Touch
  • Humanism
  • Qualitative Research
  • Metaethnography


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