Part 2: Why Medical Statistics Don’t Matter When You’re the Patient!

Did you know that doctors can’t accurately predict how long you will live.

That’s very profound information, but I can hear someone saying in response, “I hear you, but my doctor says my condition is too far gone. I’m terminal.”

It is important for you to believe that you can get well!

Your faith in yourself and your body’s ability to heal is the most important ingredient. Don’t listen to or accept any dire predictions doctors and statistics might give you. They can’t accurately predict how long you will live.

Unfortunately, doctors often give patients dire predictions—diagnoses that sound like “death sentences” and predictions of their demise, based on statistics, and the limited outcomes of conventional treatments. Of course, such bleak medical diagnoses are going to have negative impacts on recovery and health.

Patients who have the “will to live” experience a difference in the expression and terminality of their disease, especially cancer, compared to those who have given up.

I once heard Dr. Ernesto Contreras, medical director of the world-famous Oasis of Hope Hospital in Tijuana, Mexico, say, “When a patient comes to us, one of the first things we say is, ‘Only God knows when you’re going to die.’ So let’s work together on healing your body.”

The modern medical model, though powerful, does not explain everything about disease processes. A broader framework is needed that includes how psychological factors affect disease outcome. We would all benefit from better understanding the mind-body connection.
But the link between positive coping styles and favorable disease outcome is still under-researched. The delineation, measurement, and psychophysiology of positive states of mind are sorely neglected.

We, allopathically-trained physicians (doctors who treat illnesses with drugs and surgery), have been taught not to engage our emotions with our patients—to be distant and objective; to palpate, not touch; to hear symptoms, not to listen; to remain uninvolved with our patients.

I disagree with this approach. I believe that love and compassion are key ingredients to healing and life in general. The stance that modern medicine holds is detrimental because it denies our patients these key ingredients.

I recall a study conducted at a Massachusetts hospital. Patients were divided into two groups, a control group that was treated as most patients are pre-operatively, and a group that received a pre-operative visit from an anesthesiologist.

The anesthesiologist would share information about the anesthesia process, and what to expect before and after surgery. Patients in the control group only met the anesthesiologist moments before surgery and weren’t given any additional information.

When you are facing a serious illness…

Many patients have proven to me over the years that we all possess the ability to survive and thrive, and overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. Regardless of the diagnosis and prognosis you are facing, please remember all is not lost.

Men and women like you have faced the challenges of living with and overcoming serious and potentially fatal diseases. These experiences and my spiritual understanding inform me that you, too, can be healed—especially when you unleash the will to live that already resides within you!

While the patients in both groups were similar in terms of age and procedures, the patients to whom the anesthesiologist had spoken prior to surgery had significantly fewer complications and much shorter hospital stays. This study and others I have read confirm my belief that the more communicative, humane, and compassionate we doctors are, the more positive our effect on patient outcomes.
I was taught in medical school that the mind and body are independent of each other, except in the case of “psychosomatic” illness. At the same time, I was taught that the mind could exert a significant influence on the body, as in the placebo effect, when a person is given an inert substance like a sugar pill and told it’s a drug.

(Interestingly, the statistical difference between the “real thing” and the placebo is rarely more than 15%.) A placebo can also exert a negative effect if patients are told that a sugar pill can have a negative effect. This is called a “nocebo” effect. The mind complies to one’s belief and produces a negative, sometimes harmful response.

I believe physicians can induce a “nocebo” effect with pessimistic predictions and “death sentences.” Patients internalize the hopelessness and make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, growing numbers of doctors are being trained today in the role the mind plays in health and disease.