Patient satisfaction scores could be swayed by 'nocebo effect'

Patient satisfaction reporting could be affected by the "nocebo effect"--the opposite of the placebo effect--in which patients have low expectations and report low outcomes, thereby affecting hospital scores, according to an editorial in the Huffington Post.

Coined in 1961 by Walter Kennedy, the nocebo effect is a phenomenon that results from negative expectations that can affect clinical outcomes. When discouraged, patients have a negative experience of their care, Drs. Matthew Erlich and Lloyd Sederer wrote in the article.

"[T]he power of this purse string may keep many a health care administrator awake at night. Why? Because patients usually don't expect the best from medical care; rather, they often expect the worst!" according to the authors.

The nocebo effect has been documented previously. In August, a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine found that information disclosure about potential side effects can itself contribute to producing adverse effects. "Nocebo effects adversely influence quality of life and therapy adherence, emphasizing the need for minimizing these responses to the extent possible," the study stated.

Drs. Erlich and Sederer stressed patient-centered care, as well as family involvement, to combating the nocebo effect and improving patient satisfaction.

With performance scores from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey playing a role in reimbursements, hospitals certainly are taking note of patient satisfaction. Starting in October 2012, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will withhold 1 percent of regular reimbursements based on performance.

For more information:
- read the editorial
- here's the study abstract

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