Nathanael Johnson explores the “care effect” — the idea that the opportunity for patients to feel heard and cared for can improve their health.
What Kaptchuk demonstrated is what some medical thinkers have begun to call the “care effect” — the idea that the opportunity for patients to feel heard and cared for can improve their health. Scientific or no, alternative practitioners tend to express empathy, to allow for unhurried silences, and to ask what meaning patients make of their pain. Kaptchuk’s study was a breakthrough: It showed that randomized, controlled trials could measure the effect of caring.
But there was already abundant evidence from nursing science to suggest a healing power in the interaction between practitioner and patient. A study in Turkey found that empathetic nurses improved the symptoms of patients with hypertension. Midwestern cancer patients who received massages slept better and had less pain.
BY NATHANAEL JOHNSON