This study is the latest in a series of findings indicating that doctors who listen carefully and without interruption or snap judgments have happier patients who experience better health outcomes.
In the most recent study, researchers had patients go in for one of two very different doctor interviews prior to an MRI scan. In a patient-centered interview, the doctors addressed any concerns about the procedure and asked questions that allowed patients to speak freely about their jobs, home life, and other psychological and social factors affecting health. In the alternative interview, patients were asked only specific questions about their medical history and what medications they took.
Test subjects who underwent the patient-centered interviews were more satisfied with their doctors and had greater confidence in them.
Further complexity was added when the patients underwent their MRIs. While being scanned, the patients were mildly shocked (which would trigger discomfort) at the same time they were shown a photo of a doctor who they believed was monitoring the procedure.
The anterior insulas— the part of the brain that makes people aware of pain—of the test subjects who had experienced the patient-centered interviews had less activity when the subjects saw a photo of the doctor they had met before. Essentially, when they saw the doctor who talked with them openly, who they felt they could trust, the direct result was a greater tolerance for pain.
This study is part of an effort to create standards for health care that is focused on the patient. As the weight of evidence grows that individualized, patient-centered care is more effective, the choice of an appropriate primary-care physician becomes even more important.
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Trusting Your Doctor Yields Extra Benefits
Sarantopoulos, I., et al., “Patient-centered interviewing is associated with decreased responses to painful stimuli: An initial fMRI study,” Patient Education and Counseling published online November 21, 2012.