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Tag: Harvard Program in Placebo Studies and the Theraputic Encounter

PiPS: When Less Is More

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The search for an antidote to the ills of our ailing healthcare system inevitably bumps up against the pervasive mindset that more is better. Each year we develop and prescribe more drugs, more tests, more technology. Yet, despite these investments, more treatment doesn’t always result in better outcomes. Procedures can be invasive or have unintended consequences, medications can have side effects, and tests can be unnecessary. But what is the alternative? As we look to improve quality and reduce cost, less can actually be more.

Results of recent research indicate that there is much to tap into beyond reliance on drugs and other interventions when helping patients heal. For example:

The doctor’s connection with a patient can improve clinical outcomes

In a treatment experiment where the only variable was the quality of the clinician’s engagement with the patient, those in the “higher engagement” group reported much greater relief. 1

Seeing a treatment administered increases effectiveness

Morphine injected directly by syringe has greater pain-killing effects than when added, out of view, to a patient’s IV.

Sugar pills can work as well as “real” medicine 2

In a study concerning migraine, patients reported as much relief after taking a dummy pill labeled as a proven medication as patients who took the proven medication that was labeled as a dummy pill. 3

These occurrences tend to be aggregated under the rubric of the “placebo effect.” Once pigeonholed as a nuisance factor in clinical drug trials, the placebo effect is now the subject of a promising list of studies and experiments in the fields of neurophysiology, psychology, neuroscience, molecular biology, and genetics.

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