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Physicians' brain scans indicate doctors can feel their patients' pain -- and their relief
Date:1/29/2013

BOSTON 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 on-line today 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.

"By demonstrating that caring for patients involves a complex set of brain events, including deep understanding of the patient's facial and body expressions, possibly in combination with the physician's own expectations of relief and feelings of reward, we have been able to elucidate the neurobiology underlying caregiving," adds senior author Ted Kaptchuk, director of the PiPS and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Our findings provide early evidence
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Contact: Bonnie Prescott
bprescot@bidmc.harvard.edu
617-667-7306
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
Source:Eurekalert

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