Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Treatment Expectations Influence Treatment Outcomes (Sports Med Res)


Monday, February 28, 2011

Treatment Expectations Influence Treatment Outcomes

The effect of treatment expectation on drug efficacy: imaging the analgesic benefit of the opioid remifentanil.

Bingel UWanigasekera VWiech KNi Mhuircheartaigh RLee MCPloner MTracey I. Sci Transl Med. 2011 Feb 16;3(70):70ra14.

A little over a month ago we posted an article that suggested there was a clinical benefit to placebos when patients are instructed 1) that they are taking placebos and 2) that the placebos are beneficial.  The study highlighted the importance of explaining the benefits of treatments to patients, even if it is a placebo. Bingel et al. took this a step further by evaluating how different expectations (both positive and negative) may alter the effect of a prescription analgesic in healthy volunteers. The study recruited 22 healthy volunteers to undergo four trials (each with 10 standardized painful heat stimuli): 1) no analgesic (saline infused intravenously), 2) opioid analgesic infused without being told that the medication was being delivered (no expectancy), 3) continued opioid analgesic and being told that they were receiving the analgesic (positive expectancy), and 4) continued opioid analgesic but were told told that the analgesic was stopped to see how their pain increased (negative expectancy). Subjective and functional brain MRI data (to record brain activity) were gathered during the study. In advance of data collection, the authors performed their full study protocol with only saline and found that there was no evidence of habituation or sensitization (after four trials people responded to the pain stimulus similar to the first trial). The study found that when patients expected a positive outcome their pain was reduced almost in half but when the patient had negative expectations (they thought the medicine was stopped and the pain would be greater) their pain was as if they were not taking an analgesic. They supported their evidence by demonstrating that brain activity was different between positive and negative expectation conditions. 

The authors suggest that their data indicates that clinicians should consider patients’ beliefs and expectations during treatment regimes to improve treatment outcomes. In many ways this study agrees with the article we previously posted. It demonstrates the importance of educating our patients about the potential benefits of their treatments. Furthermore, this study highlights the opposite side of the placebo effect (nocebo). If a patient does not think that a particular intervention is going to work then, based on this data, it might not work.  Sometimes we need to be sensitive to different cultural views towards certain treatments (for optimizing placebo/nocebo responses). In a time when we are being pushed to see more patients in a limited time this data provides additional evidence that we need to slow down and spend more time educating our patients about why their treatments will be beneficial. The treatment of physical injuries requires a partnership between the clinician and patient, in which both agree to the optimal treatment regimen to improve patient symptoms.

Written by: Jeffrey Driban
Reviewed by: Joseph Zeni


John Goetschius said...

I agree with Jeffrey that this articles demonstrates the importance of educating athletes. It seems that if by educating an athlete on the beneficial aspects of treatment could improve their symptoms, then demonstrating to them the beneficial aspect of a treatment could have the same effect or better. I feel this is something we are taught to do with every treatment through the development of treatment goals with the athlete. Theoretically, if athletes can demonstrate a greater benefit from a treatment by knowing that the treatment is effective, then the simple act of providing positive pre- and post-treatment outcomes to the athlete could improve their overall symptoms, along with their confidence in their clinician.

Jeffrey B. Driban, PhD, ATC, CSCS said...

John, thanks and great point. It's important for us to get buy in from the patient and by educating them we can also gain their confidence. It's an easy way to possibly get a little extra benefit out of a treatment. Communication between the clinician and patient is key.

Gabriella Basile said...

I have learned in my therapeutic exercise class that atheltes get unmotivated and down when they experience an injury. I think it would be very beneficial to inform and educate the athlete on what your doing to help them and how its going to help them, they will believe and trust you. I think having a trust between the clinician and athlete helps the athlete feel better about the program and may get an athlete to have increased results. I believe it is also how confident the clinician is about the program, that plays a huge role in my eyes.

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