The need for physicians to discuss patients’ use of complementary therapies with them, and for physicians to understand complementary therapies (of which massage is one), is a topic frequently raised in mainstream medical journals.

However, a new study shows U.S. physicians are often poor judges of their patients’ health beliefs.

The study, by Richard Street, Ph.D., Communication Department head at Texas A&M University and Paul Haidet, M.D., director of medical education research at The Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, also found physicians’ understanding is better the more patients are involved by asking questions, expressing concerns, and stating their beliefs and preferences for care.

For this study, 207 physician-patient consultations were audio-recorded and, after the consultations, both physicians and patients completed a measure of beliefs about the cause, meaning, treatment and control of the patient’s health condition, according to a press release from Springer, which publishes the journal the study ran in. Physicians additionally completed a measure on how they thought the patient responded.

The researchers “found that physicians generally did not have a good understanding of patient’s health beliefs, but their understanding was significantly better when patients more actively participated in the consultation,” the release noted. However, in the majority of areas, doctors actually thought that their patients’ beliefs were similar to theirs.

“If physicians had a better understanding of their patients’ beliefs about health, they could address any misconceptions or differences of opinion they had with the patient regarding the nature, severity, and treatment of their illnesses as well as make treatment recommendations better suited to the patient’s life circumstances,” Street said. “Encouraging the patient to be more involved in the consultation by expressing their beliefs and concerns is one way physicians can gain this understanding.”

The article was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

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