Provider Beliefs May Affect Pain Relief | NIH News in Health – January 2020
How your health care provider interacts with you is important. Their style can shape how you feel about your treatment.
A new study found that people experienced less pain when the treatment provider expected a pain reliever to work. This may have been due, in part, to the provider’s facial expressions.
This goes completely against what I and many other pain patients have experienced: Our doctors always believe that whatever treatment they are prescribing or providing will work and most patients do too. “Hope springs eternal” until patients face the reality that this placebo treatment isn’t working.
Every doctor I’ve ever encountered has believed their suggestions would work. Some even got angry with me when they didn’t.
But some doctors became curious and more interested after all the standard interventions proved ineffective. I don’t mind trying a new therapy or medication and always hope this “new thing” will do the trick but I’ve been repeatedly disappointed.
Doctors take pride in solving medical cases and “fixing” their patients, but chronic pain challenges their competence. From their experience and training, they have strong beliefs about what will accomplish that, so doctors often didn’t believe me when I reported that their suggested treatment wasn’t effective.
I’ve been extremely lucky to have twice found doctors who believed me when I reported that their suggested treatments didn’t ease my pain. They trusted me and prescribed opioids because that was the only effective treatment.
“When the doctor thought that the treatment was going to work, the patient reported feeling that the doctor was more empathetic,” says Dr. Luke Chang of Dartmouth College.
“The doctor may have come across as warmer or more attentive. Yet, we don’t know exactly what the doctor was doing differently to convey these beliefs that a treatment works.”
Socially transmitted placebo effects. Chen PA, Cheong JH, Jolly E, Elhence H, Wager TD, Chang LJ. Nat Hum Behav. 2019 Oct 21. doi: 10.1038/s41562-019-0749-5. [Epub ahead of print]. PMID: 31636406.