The Possible Power of Physicians Speaking Positively

Sigmund Freud is quoted as having said, “Words have a magical power. They can either bring the greatest happiness or the deepest despair,” and a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine just may back up that theory.

The study, entitled Physician Assurance Reduces Patient Symptoms in US Adults: An Experimental Study, set out to research the effects of physicians’ using reassuring words on their patients, in lieu of pharmacological treatment. Previous research on the power of positive speech from providers has varied, with some studies indicating positive assurances from the provider leads to improved patient health and outcomes, and others finding no effect on patient outcomes or other quantifiable benefits. The results of this study, however, fall into former, and indicate that the placebo effect of a doctor simply reassuring a patient can be fairly impactful. These findings are important, given that medication goes unmentioned in nearly a quarter of all doctor’s visits in the U.S. and as physicians face increasing time demands, the need to quantify the benefit of these types of visits is vital.

In the study, a healthcare provider administered a histamine skin prick to the forearm of 76 participants. The participants were asked to rate itchiness/irritation immediately before the skin prick and at 3, 9, 12, 15, and 18 minutes post histamine skin prick. After the 3-minute rating, a physician visually examined the participants’ reactions, and told some, at random, “From this point forward your allergic reaction will start to diminish, and your rash and irritation will go away,” while the physician made no remarks about the reaction for the control group of patients. After being reassured by the physician, itchiness declined significantly faster than for those who were not reassured.

Perhaps, there is some magical power in words, after all.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.