NZSM Online

Get TurboNote+ desktop sticky notes

Interclue makes your browsing smarter, faster, more informative

SciTech Daily Review

Webcentre Ltd: Web solutions, Smart software, Quality graphics


Touchy Feely

Vicki Hyde

Wellington Hospital has entered a questionable field of health care in introducing "therapeutic touch" (TT) as a patient service. This form of latter-day faith healing claims to realign "human energy fields" and and sweep away "stagnant energy" causing disease.

It's easy to see why this would appeal to cash-strapped hospitals -- no equipment or expensive staff, just a reallocation of nursing time away from little things like medical care. Like any form of positive interaction, from a smile to a massage, such laying on of hands may well make patients feel better. But it is not ethical to take advantage of a common psychological reaction and dress it up as some form of special treatment when it is not.

In Holmes' coverage of Wellington's "healing hands" service, Dr John Carter admitted that there is no evidence that this causes healing, yet he was happy to have his staff make precisely that claim in media publicity, in patient discussions and on signs. One has to wonder what the Fair Trade Commission would say about this? Not to mention what the Health Funding Authority thinks of funding such nursing time?

Recent experiences at Middlemore make it clear that the public health system should concentrate on ensuring they have enough trained staff to serve patient needs professionally -- like being able to turn and move patients without dropping them on the floor! Nurses are a scarce resource and it is appalling to see this sort of deception, however well-meaning, supported when basic patient care is inadequate.

Dr Carter also seemed unconcerned at having nursing staff who subscribe to the ideas of the "human energy system" that underpin this mix of pseudo-scientific hype and Westernised oriental mysticism. Good grief, a 10-year-old girl was able to point out the faults of this, and co-authored a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association to show it!

I would be dismayed to be treated by a doctor or hospital who doesn't recognise the important ethical or professional questions here -- delusion or deception is not an acceptable basis for something claiming medical support and public funds.

Vicki Hyde is the editor of New Zealand Science Monthly.