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    The power of compassionate touch

    With more hygienists using patient-centered approaches, is it time for you to add compassionate touch to your clinical practice?

    Fall weather has arrived in Atlanta and it’s a welcome relief after a long, hot summer. I’m off work today, so I headed to Peachtree City where I visit my nail tech every few weeks for a gel or SNS manicure and a pedicure. The nail tech I see is probably one of best I’ve ever had and I credit her gentle and consistent pampering as a significant health benefit. Her soft smile is always there and when she massages my hands, I melt into the chair.

    For those of you who loved Princess Diana as much as I did, many of us recognize how she used the power of touch to smash stigmas. During the 1987 AIDS epidemic, she did something truly shocking to many: she shook hands with an AIDS patient in London. That simple act of kindness and compassion reverberated around the world and calmed public fears at a time when the public feared catching the disease. Her brother, Charles Spencer, described Diana as very real about human contact and that her touch while visiting hospital patients of every kind was electrifying.

    More from the author: How to navigate the new periodontal classification system

    These are challenging times for practicing dental hygienists, many of whom are having to compromise quality care by working in “prophy mills” where substandard care is the norm. Instead of being able to focus on patient care, these hygienist-employees are no longer able to establish relationships with patients. Rather, insurance companies, administrators and coding specialists have taken over what happens in the operatory and they’re draining the energy available for purposeful care. For those hygienists who value having adequate time for each patient, modification of protocols is a welcome idea and something a hygienist can get excited about, especially when it results in stronger hygienist/patient relationships.

    Effects of healing touch in clinical practice (energy-based)

    Compassionate touchHands-on healing and energy-based interventions aren’t new; they’re rooted in Eastern healing practices. In the late 1980s, healing touch arose in the nursing profession and its birth is credited to a founder named Janet Mentgen, RN, BSN. In reading Janet’s bio, she’s been described as an energetically sensitive nurse whose drive was to deepen and expand the connection between nurses and their patients. She used various techniques and modalities and started honing her new skills in 1980. In 1988, she was awarded the Holistic Nurse of the Year award from the American Holistic Nurses Association. Janet revolutionized the medical model to include a clinical approach to energy-based therapy, and her legacy to nursing includes certification to students who wish to bring a holistic approach to healing. Healing touch is compassionate, heart-centered care and it compliments conventional healthcare. In reviewing the literature on healing touch, however, it’s unclear if energy-based therapy as a holistic approach to healing is unjustified by scientific evidence.

    Healing touch can come in many forms

    Dental hygienists are uniquely positioned in the community to change the dental hygiene model of care to one that focuses more on health, or even science, with less attention single-mindedly to profits. Dental hygiene entrepreneurs are showing us the way with tight budgets but a lot of passion and determination.

    Trending article: 5 phrases hygienists need to stop saying to patients

    I recently talked to Joan Fitzgerald, RDH, BS, who established a home healthcare agency in 2014 dedicated to bringing skilled dental providers into the home healthcare space.  Joan uses a patient-centered approach to care by initiating comprehensive dental assessments with her clients/patients and developing care plans that stabilize their oral health. Any urgent needs outside of her scope of practice are referred to a dentist.

    Included in her design of patient-centered care is a philosophy of healing, which includes therapeutic touch. Homebound individuals face myriad issues, both medical and environmental, with isolation being a prominent factor. A warm smile, a gentle touch, a listening ear and a hug goodbye all coalesce toward healing even in the most difficult situation, such as patients experiencing sundowning as their dementia or Alzheimer’s diagnoses advance. Appointment times are flexible, allowing for wiggle room on either side to accommodate both a patient-centered care philosophy and the unique aspects of providing in-residence care.

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