“I Feel Your Pain”

Doctors really mean it when they tell patients they feel their pain. And they feel relief when their patients feel better, measurable with functional brain MRI’s that show the doctors’ relief in the same part of the brain where the placebo effect can be measured in pain patients.

An article in Science Daily describes the experiments, conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital:

A patient’s relationship with his or her doctor has long been considered an important component of healing. Now, in a novel investigation in which physicians underwent brain scans while they believed they were actually treating patients, researchers have provided the first scientific evidence indicating that doctors truly can feel their patients’ pain — and can also experience their relief following treatment.

Led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Program in Placebo Studies and Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center/Harvard Medical School, the new findings, which appear online January 29 in Molecular Psychiatry, help to illuminate one of the more intangible aspects of health care — the doctor/patient relationship.

“Our findings showed that the same brain regions that have previously been shown to be activated when patients receive placebo therapies are similarly activated in the brains of doctors when they administer what they think are effective treatments,” explains first author Karin Jensen, PhD, an investigator in the Department of Psychiatry and Martinos Center for Biological Imaging at MGH and member of the PiPS. Notably, she adds, the findings also showed that the physicians who reported greater ability to take things from the patients’ perspective, that is, to empathize with patients’ feelings, experienced higher satisfaction during patients’ treatments, as reflected in the brain scans.

“We already know that the physician-patient relationship provides solace and can even relieve many symptoms…. Now, for the first time, we’ve shown that caring for patients encompasses a unique neurobiology in physicians. Our ultimate goal is to transform the ‘art of medicine’ into the ‘science of care,’ and this research is an important first step in this process as we continue investigations to find out how patient-clinician interactions can lead to measurable clinical outcomes in patients.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130129080622.htm

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