Does the patient-clinician relationship influence pain?

New research by the University of Miami and University of Colorado Boulder, US, investigates whether the patient-clinician relationship has an impact on pain.

The study, Feelings of clinician-patient similarity and trust influence pain: evidence from simulated clinical interactions, is published in the American Pain Society’s Journal of Pain. According to the abstract, the clinician-patient relationship is particularly important for pain diagnosis and treatment, yet the effects of the clinician-patient relationship on pain remain under-examined.

The researchers involved in the study, Dr Elizabeth Losin and Dr Tor Wager, and graduate student Steven Anderson, tested the hypothesis that patients who believe they share core beliefs and values with their clinician will report less pain than patients who do not and also measured feelings of perceived clinician-patient similarity and trust to see if these factors had an effect on pain.

They did this by experimentally manipulating perceptions of similarity between participants playing the role of clinicians and participants playing the role of patients in simulated clinical interactions. Participants were placed in one of two groups according to their responses to a questionnaire about their personal beliefs and values, and painful thermal stimulation was used as an analogue of a painful medical procedure.

The researchers found that patients reported feeling more similarity and trust toward their clinician when they were paired with clinicians from their own group and patients’ positive feelings of similarity and trust toward their clinicians predicted lower pain ratings. Also, that the most anxious patients demonstrated the strongest relationship between their feelings about their clinicians and their pain report.