A new study has confirmed that what a doctor tells their patient can have a profound effect on their recovery time.
Often when you go to the doctor with something like the flu, it’s less about having the doctor actually do anything--no doctor can cure a virus--and more about just having a medical professional tell you that you’re not going to die. But, as it turns out, the exact language the doctor uses to reassure their patients can have a huge effect on how long it takes them to recover.
The study comes out of Stanford University’s psychology department, where lead researcher Alia Crum concerns herself with how the power of the mind can be harnessed for healing.
“For many conditions, the simple act of being reassured by a medical professional can aid in the healing process, and we needn’t always rely on medication and procedures to make us feel better,” Crum said in an interview.
“My hope is that findings like this one inspire additional research on the physiological mechanisms of assurance as well as promote training and compensation for physicians to more effectively leverage psychological forces in their practice.”
The study involved 76 participants who were all given a histamine skin prick to induce a mild allergic reaction--basically, everyone broke out in a rash. Next, the participants were asked to rate the itchiness of their new rash on a 100-point scale every 3 minutes up to 18 minutes later.
Here’s where the psychology comes in: after 6 minutes, a doctor would come in to assess the rash. Half the participants were given reassurance that the rash would start to go away from that point forward and that they’d be fine, while the other half were just checked out by the doctor who didn’t comment on their condition.
For the half that received reassurances, they reported an average itchiness of 21.9 by the 9-minute mark, with the non-reassured group reporting an average itchiness of 29. That gap remained basically for the remainder of the 18-minute test.
This study shows the incredible importance of what the doctor tells their patients. Even though the doctor didn’t prescribe anything and essentially said “you’ll be fine”, the words themselves can have a noticeable effect on the body.
It also proves that a personable doctor who can say the right things at the right time will have a huge benefit to their patients.