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

er pain relief with what they thought was a pain-relieving electronic device, but which was actually a non-active "sham" device.

To ensure that the physicians believed that the sham device really worked, the investigators first administered a dose of "heat pain" to the physicians' forearms to gauge pain threshold and then "treated" them with the fake machine. During the treatments, the investigators reduced the heat stimulation, to demonstrate to the participants that the therapy worked. The physicians underwent fMRI scans while they experienced the painful heat stimulation so that investigators could see exactly which brain regions were activated during first-person perception of pain.

In the second portion of the experiment,each physician was introduced to a patient and asked to perform a standardized clinical examination, which was conducted in a typical exam room for approximately 20 minutes. (The clinical exam was performed in order to establish a realistic rapport between the physician and patient before fMRI scanning took place, and was comparable to a standard U.S. doctor's appointment.) At this point the physician also answered a questionnaire, the Interpersonal Reactivity Index, used to measure the participant's self-reported perspective-taking skills.

During the third step, says Jensen, the physician and patient were led into the scanner room. "The physician went inside the scanner and was equipped with a remote control that could activate the 'analgesic device' when prompted," she explains. Mirrors inside the scanner enabled physicians to maintain eye contact with the patient, who was seated on a chair next to the scanner's bed and hooked up to both the thermal pain stimulator and the pain-relieving device.

Then, in a randomized order, physicians were instructed to either treat a patient's pain or to press a control button that provided no relief. When physicians were told not to activate pain relief, the "patient" exh
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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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