Medical Studies

Improving Placebo Effectiveness at Kaiser

I went to my first physician appointment as a member of Kaiser.  I received a primary care visit and got lab work done within 30 minutes.  The whole process was incredibly efficient.  I notice the Kaiser docs and nurses followed best practices.  Further, the check-in process was very organized and my doctor could access my medical record electronically.  Further, the next day I could access my lab results online.  Overall, it was a very efficient experience.

The process as completely different from the alternative medicine described in a recent Atlantic article, ‘The Triumph of New Age Medicine‘.  Consider the case of a 60-year-old retired firefighter who had come in for an acupuncture treatment.

His wife, a nurse, urged him to try acupuncture, and in February, with the blessing of his doctor, he finally met with Lao, who had trained in his native China as an acupuncturist. Their first visit had lasted well over an hour, Corasaniti says, time mostly spent discussing every aspect of his injuries and what seemed to ease or exacerbate them, and also other aspects of his health—he had been gaining weight, he was constipated, he was developing urinary problems. They talked at length about his diet, his physical activity, his responsibilities and how they weighed on him. Lao focused in on stress—what was causing it in Corasaniti’s life, and how did it aggravate the pain?—and they discussed the importance of finding ways to relax in everyday life.

Does acupuncture work?  Depends by what you mean by ‘work’.   This study found that acupuncture worked no better than a ‘sham acupuncture’.  However, acupuncture does work.  Although acupuncture is equally effective as sham acupuncture, sham acupuncture actually does help improve health.  Further, acupuncture is more effective than taking a sugar pill placebo.  Thus, the quality of the placebo–in terms of perceived cost and ritual surrounding the placebo–does improve health.

What can Kaiser learn from these findings?  Combining best practice medicine with better placebos such as more elaborate rituals of patient-provider interaction may improve the quality of care provided.

Creating a warmer, placebo-filled environment could put the patient in a better state of mind and better allow the patient to use positive thinking to heal themselves.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *