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

of the importance of interacting brain networks between patients and caregivers and acknowledge the doctor/patient relationship as a valued component of health care, alongside medications and procedures."

Previous investigations have demonstrated that a brain region associated with pain relief (right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, VLPFC) and a region associated with reward (rostral anterior cingulate cortex, rACC) are activated when patients experience the placebo effect, which occurs when patients show improvement from treatments that contain no active ingredients. The placebo effect accounts for significant portions of clinical outcomes in many illnesses -- including pain, depression and anxiety.

Although behavioral research has suggested that physicians' expectations influence patients' clinical outcomes and help determine patients' placebo responses, until now little effort has been directed to understanding the biology underlying the physician component of the clinical relationship. Jensen and her colleagues hypothesized that the same brain regions that are activated during patients' placebo responses the VLPFC and rACC -- would similarly be activated in the brains of physicians as they treated patients. They also hypothesized that a physician's perspective-taking skills would influence the outcomes.

To test these hypotheses, the scientists developed a unique equipment arrangement that would enable them to conduct functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the physicians' brains while the doctors had face-to-face interactions with patients, including observing patients as they underwent pain treatments.

The experiment included 18 physicians (all of whom had received their medical degree within the last 10 years and represented nine separate medical specialties). Two 25-year-old females played the role of "patients" and followed a rehearsed script. The experiment called for the participating physicians to administ
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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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