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Doctors can Feel their Patients’ Agony and Joy

Update Date: Jan 29, 2013 07:53 AM EST

The trust a patient places on his or her doctor is very important for the course of recovery. A recent study has found that doctors are able to feel the pain as well as the relief of being cured that their patients feel.

The first author of the study is Karin Jensen, PhD, an investigator in the Department of Psychiatry and Martinos Center for Biological Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). The results were published in Molecular Psychiatry.

In this study, the doctors were taken for a brain scan in what they believed was a course of treatment for the patients. Their brain scan revealed that the clinicians are able to feel the pain of their patients as well as feel the joy and relief a patient feels when he or she is cured.

"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. Notably, 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," Jensen was reported as saying in Medicalxpress.

"By demonstrating that caring for patients involves a complex set of brain events, including a deep understanding of the patients' 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 care giving. Our findings provide early evidence 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," said senior author Ted Kaptchuk, director of the PiPS and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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