Positive messages may reduce patient pain: A meta-analysis


Authors
Alexander Mebius
Oxford University
Jeremy Howick
Oxford University
Abstract
Introduction Current treatments for pain have limited benefits and worrying side effects. Some studies suggest that pain is reduced when clinicians deliver positive messages. However, the effects of positive messages are heterogeneous and have not been subject to meta-analysis. We aimed to estimate the efficacy of positive messages for pain reduction. Methods We included randomized trials of the effects of positive messages in a subset of the studies included in a recent systematic review of context factors for treating pain. Several electronic databases were searched. Reference lists of relevant studies were also searched. Two authors independently undertook study selection, data extraction, risk of bias assessment, and analyses. Our primary outcome measures were differences in patient- or observer-reported pain between groups who were given positive messages and those who were not. Results Of the 16 randomized trials (1703 patients) that met the inclusion criteria, 12 trials had sufficient data for meta-analysis. The pooled standardized effect size was −0.31 (95% confidence interval [CI] −0.61 to −0.01, p = 0.04, I2 = 82%). The effect size remained positive but not statistically significant after we excluded studies considered to have a high risk of bias (standard effect size −0.17, 95% CI −0.54 to 0.19, P = 0.36, I2 = 84%). Conclusion Care of patients with chronic or acute pain may be enhanced when clinicians deliver positive messages about possible clinical outcomes. However, we have identified several limitations of the present study that suggest caution when interpreting the results. We recommend further high-quality studies to confirm (or falsify) our result. FUNDING Alexander Mebius research has been funded through the ERC grant "Philosophy of Pharmacology: Safety, Statistical Standards, and Evidence Amalgamation" (GA: 639276)
Keywords Pain  Communication
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