Article Date: 2/1/2012

The Power of the Physician

The Power of the Physician

We often discuss it, but just how powerful are your words?

From The Editorial Director, Jim Thomas

In November of 2008, journalist Michael Specter felt pains in his chest. The middle-aged, healthy writer feared the worst and called his doctor, who told him to come to the office immediately.

After an examination, his doctor told him that he was fine, writes Mr. Specter in the Dec. 12, 2011 issue of The New Yorker. He tells his patient, “Thanksgiving is often a time of stress,” and he should relax. Mr. Specter's pain disappeared immediately, and he wondered why.

“Of course, it was a relief to know I wasn't sick,” he continues. “But could words really banish a pain I had struggled with for hours?”

Mr. Specter concludes he had been given a placebo. Although verbal in nature, “it eased my anxiety at least as effectively as if I had swallowed a pill,” he writes. (Note: While research has demonstrated the effectiveness of placebos in relieving pain, this is a completely different subject than placebos curing — or slowing the progression of — actual disease.)

Power to persuade

When we discuss the power of the physician in Optometric Management, we are referring to the fact that patients usually follow the doctor's recommendation. For instance, if you recommend a multifocal lens to a patient, that patient is likely to purchase the lens.

If we consider Mr. Specter's insights, we can go a step further and make the case that if we recommend the product a certain way, it may actually improve how the patient feels. Say, for example, after examining a contact lens wearer who complains of discomfort, you conclude the right course of action is for the patient to change CL solutions. You might say:

“When patients have similar complaints, I recommend they switch to solutions. Why don't you try XYZ? If it doesn't help, just give us a call. There are other solutions, so we can probably find one that works.”

A higher power

Or, it might be best with a stronger recommendation, along the lines of:

“I recommend you switch to XYZ solution. Among most patients with similar complaints, it has relieved irritation and provided comfort through an entire day of wear, so I'm confident you will feel better. Take this prescription for XYZ, and follow the directions carefully. Next week, my office will follow up with you.”

There's absolutely no science to back up this “best” idea, some will contend. I can't disagree. But what patient would want an uncertain recommendation, especially when a few words may make all the difference in how they feel? OM

Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: February 2012, page(s): 6