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Good Doctors Listen Carefully

December 5, 2012 by  

Good Doctors Listen Carefully

New research suggests that a doctor can better the health of a patient simply by ensuring that a relationship is built upon trust and empathy.

Researchers from Michigan State University have shown that doctors who listen carefully have happier patients with better health outcomes not only because they make better treatment decisions, but also because empathy actually changes the brain’s response to stress and increases pain tolerance.

“This is the first study that has looked at the patient-centered relationship from a neurobiological point of view,” said Issidoros  Sarinopoulos, the lead researcher. “It’s important for doctors and others who advocate this type of relationship with the patient to show that there is a biological basis.”

In the study patients were randomly assigned to one of two types of interview with a doctor before undergoing an MRI scan. One set was asked only specific questions about clinical information such as their medical history and what drugs they were taking. The other patients were assigned doctors who addressed any concerns participants had about the procedure and asked open-ended questions, allowing them to talk freely about their jobs, home life and other psychological and social factors affecting health.

The patients were then given a series of electric shocks while looking at a photo of a doctor who they were told was supervising the procedure. Using the MRI, researchers measured activity in the anterior insula — the part of the brain that makes people aware of pain.

Individuals who had a previous patient-centered interview showed less activity in the anterior insula when they were looking at a photo of the interviewing doctor than when the doctor in the photo was unknown. They participants also self-reported less pain when the photos showed the known doctor.

“Medicine has for too long focused just on the physical dimensions of the patient,” said MSU professor of medicine Robert Smith, who co-authored the paper. “Those clinical questions are important and necessary, but we’re trying to demonstrate that when you let patients tell their story in an unfettered way, you get more satisfied patients who end up healthier.”

Sam Rolley

Staff writer Sam Rolley began a career in journalism working for a small town newspaper while seeking a B.A. in English. After learning about many of the biases present in most modern newsrooms, Rolley became determined to find a position in journalism that would allow him to combat the unsavory image that the news industry has gained. He is dedicated to seeking the truth and exposing the lies disseminated by the mainstream media at the behest of their corporate masters, special interest groups and information gatekeepers.

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  • 45caliber

    Recently I had a small cancer removed from my neck. My doctor walked into the room with a big smile, followed by two new nurse trainees. His initial greeting was, “Are you ready for your brain surgury?”

    My reply was, “I thought I was here so you could cut my throat.”

    We both got a laugh at the faces of the nurse trainees.

    Sometimes you have to train the doctors. It took me about five years to convince the doctor that he needed to listen to what I was telling him and then decide what was wrong instead of assuming things. My wife recently decided to get a new doctor since he would listen to ME about HER when she said she had some minor problem (that was usually not minor). She tends to downplay any problem and even lie about it in some instances. It makes her feel better if the doctor tells her she has some minor problem rather than a serious one (like diabetes, which she has.) She was REALLY upset when I had a talk with her new doctor.


      I HEAR YA, “45caliber!”

  • trailbee

    Several years ago I had my third cancer “experience.” After losing my Oncologist, replaced by a Physician’s Assistant, a gem, I got a new Oncologist, a young, fresh-out-of-med-school-hospital-hopping-head-covered-in-Medusae-braids from Temple University female. It was her first day at our hospital, and my first time back after three months, for my check-up. I explained something to her and asked for her help, upon which she said: “If it’s not AMA approved, we don’t do it.” My Radiation Oncologist has released me, my PET Scan has returned clean. I don’t have to go back, and have not seen her since. :)

  • Jesicha`s Hope (@jesichashope)

    The doctor, patient relationship is two-fold; doctors are needed for a job, we expect them to do it in an expert manner; that is, make us well when we are sick. Like anything else, we expect truths and all options put before us. If we have a car problem, we expect the mechanic to fix the car, not rip us off and if it cannot be fixed, tell us. If we are sick, we expect knowledgeable expertise, all options on the table, and if they cannot make us well, we need the options available. That being said, we are also talking about our lives, cars or other tangible items if broke can be replaced, lives cannot. When we face things that are unknown to us [MRI's, test, surgeries, etc], we need empathy, it calms the fear of the unknown; our doctors [mechanics of the body if you will] are doing a job and that is foremost but they need also understand we are not tangible items but living things with feelings, emotions and fears. What I see in the majority of doctors is one sided; they do the job as they see it, not as it should be seen. They do it according to their rules or what they perceive as their rules. We are commodities not living things, our sickness pays their bills, options outside what they can make money on, are not exposed or put on the table. I see this happen day after day, cancer patients told they are terminal because treatment options outside the orthodox box is not expressed. If the doctor truly cared about the patient as a human being, such treatment options, no matter where or how would be giving out, giving other fellow human being a true fighting chance; but this is not the case. Doctors need to step up to the plate and keep their oath; give us what we expect, expertise and truth; let the patient make the final decision. Too many come to us, more so lately with more being turned down for even the conventional treatments; jesichashope dot org sees too many lives being tossed to hospice because of money and lack of truthful options being handed out. Good service, and empathy is right; it works.

  • FWO21

    I hate to tell my doctor anything because by 2014, it will all be on the internet. Whatever happened to doctor to patient confidentiality? I only go for my yearly check-up because I have go get a new prescription every year; if I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t even go. No privacy whatsoever.

  • Dredtost

    I just retired after 35 years of being a physician!! Even back then they were starting to require a course that would teach (or try to) us Docs how to listen to our patients! One of my first professors made (1) profound statement that I have never forgotten to this day! It was this ” When you are in an exam room w/ a patient, (SHUT UP and LISTEN)”! He said if we listen w/o speaking, 80% or more will give you their diagnosis! And it can be as short as 1 minute or as long as 20!
    And it is true! This professorial loved people! Sadly he died over 20 years ago!
    One more lesson was taught to me by an elderly woman. I was fresh out of taking my boards and looked like a young boy so I started growing a beard albeit a scrawny one. A elderly lady was sitting on the exam table and said to me when I asked her how old she was? She looked at me and said to me, “”Young man, never ask a woman how old she is, always ask, always ask “How young ” are you!”. And by the way sir, you don’t need to grow a beard to try and look older than you think you are because it looks scrawny so enjoy you’re young age, I’m sure you worked hard enough to get where you are right now!
    Pleasant memories to look back on!
    God bless

  • Newspooner

    The first thing I ask any new doctor is: “Do you think that fluoride toothpaste is better than non-fluoride toothepaste?” If they answer “yes”, then I immediately refuse to use them for any kind of medical treatment or consultation.


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