The Talking Cure

WHILE PHARMACEUTICAL ADS echo the tagline “ask your doctor if this medication is right for you,” this study suggests that empathetic conversation at the point of care is itself an effective treatment method. 

Researchers measured the intersections of two placebos: (1) patients either received electrical current therapy for chronic lower back pain, or a sham treatment mimicking the therapy, and (2) physical therapists either neglected to start a conversation, or initiated communication with open-ended questions, empathetic listening, and encouragement.

It isn’t shocking that the most successful group – reporting a 77% reduction in pain – received the prescribed treatment combined with meaningful communication.

More surprising is that the second most successful group did not receive any “medical” treatment at all: The members of the placebo group that solely participated in meaningful conversation with their physical therapists reported a 55% decrease in pain.

At 46% reported pain reduction, treatment alone proved to be less effective than human interaction between clinician and patient. 

“This is a finding that should give all medical professionals pause: Communication alone was more effective than treatment alone,” writes N.Y.U. associate professor of medicine Danielle Ofri. 

Based on these results, it seems the point-of-care mantra to remember is: communication, communication, communication.

Take care.