Navigating the nocebo effect through patient engagement is the key to setting patients up for success

Written by By Dr. Sumira Riaz and Steve Clark on Tuesday 5th September 2023

It is no secret that patients’ pre-existing beliefs and experiences can significantly affect their behaviors and outcomes.

Let’s frame this discussion based on people diagnosed and living with cancer. On a populational group and individual level, their experiences may seem similar – all are living with a type of cancer, going through treatment, and adapting to life with this diagnosis. However, below surface level, there are significant individual differences, such as earlier experiences, societal influences, beliefs (cultural and environmental), perceptions, cognitive schema, relationships with their healthcare team, family, responsibilities; the list is endless.

Over the years, research has stated that those who have a positive approach to their treatment plan have lower rates of rehospitalization and better quality of life than those who may have developed an unconscious negative view of their treatment plan. The power of positive thinking and acceptance contributes to the placebo effect – the belief that a treatment will help – which can be as effective as medical intervention. Interestingly, we are learning that the opposite can also be true, coined as the “nocebo effect”. 

The nocebo effect is described as a phenomenon “causing patients to develop side effects or unwanted symptoms, or reject treatment, due to the belief that the medical intervention will cause harm.” In other words, an individual’s pre-existing experiences and beliefs, including the environmental influences they are exposed to, can influence their outcomes. 

If you're interested in delving deeper into this topic and understanding how patient engagement can effectively navigate the nocebo effect, we invite you to explore our latest whitepaper. The objective of this discussion is to encourage healthcare professionals to dive deeper and understand their patients pre‑existing schema, which is likely to predict how the patient will behave once they are outside the consultation room. Unlock the full whitepaper below to gain a deeper understanding of this crucial aspect of patient care.