THE BLOG
03/25/2014 11:18 am ET | Updated May 25, 2014

Hypnosis for the Hospital: The Evidence Is in on Patient Comfort

Have you ever been anxious about undergoing a stressful medical procedure such as a mammogram or MRI scan, or something even more painful such as a breast biopsy or angiogram? Many patients feel terrified at the prospect of being on the receiving end of the marvels of modern technology. The good news is that there is an approach based on hypnosis and relaxation techniques that has been shown to improve patient comfort and satisfaction in multiple scientific studies by Elvira Lang, M.D.

Dr. Lang has begun to train other health care professionals, including radiological technologists, nurses and doctors, in her method of non-pharmacological patient sedation. As a former Harvard faculty radiologist, she is the lead author of more than two dozen research papers documenting a reliable way to reduce claustrophobia in MRI, anxiety in mammography and pain in interventional procedures. These studies were done in collaboration with radiologists at Stanford University, Iowa State University, Ohio State University and Boston University.

As a musculoskeletal radiologist, I'm used to sticking big needles into patients' joints to inject dye for arthrograms. It can be a somewhat painful procedure, so we first inject local anesthetic to numb the skin. Unfortunately, as residents we were all taught to tell the patients it will "feel like a little bee sting and then it will burn," which are both negative suggestions and self-fulfilling prophecies. After training in hypnosis over 20 years ago, I learned to simply say, "I am injecting the numbing medicine that will cause a sensation under your skin, and notice how quickly it gets numb." The language makes all the difference.

It works even when the patient doesn't speak English. My most challenging patient spoke only Spanish and was referred for an ankle arthrogram. He had a chronic pain condition that made the slightest touch of the skin extremely painful, and I had to put a needle into his ankle. Having no other options I asked him through his interpreter, "Where would you rather be?" He said his favorite restaurant, and I suggested he have a fabulous meal there while I did the procedure. Ten minutes later we were done without any mention of pain as he had been busy eating a delicious five-course meal.

These kinds of experiences amazed all of us in the radiology department at Duke University Medical Center as described in my book Let Magic Happen: Adventures in Healing with a Holistic Radiologist. Similar reports came in from other grateful patients that Dr. Lang worked with at Harvard commenting on reduced pain and anxiety and less medication. Inspired by such excellent results, she spent 20 years doing the rigorous research to prove that hospitals could actually save time and money, while increasing patient satisfaction and reducing complications from the side effects of medications.

Dr. Lang published her award-winning book Patient Sedation Without Medication in 2009 and left Harvard to found her company Hypnalgesics, LLC, and train health care professionals in her approach called Comfort Talk. On-site team training at hospitals is provided as well as web-based learning. Due to the Affordable Care Act hospital reimbursement is now tied to patient satisfaction ratings, and Comfort Talk is a cost-effective way to boost those and increase staff and administrator satisfaction also.