Kissing it better: beliefs in modern medicine

ImageI’m trying out a new medium today, using the University of Birmingham’s Ideas Lab, on which they’ve just posted a podcast from me about health beliefs. You can find it at:

I think the issues are as pertinent to health care professionals as they are to patients and the public, and it’d be really helpful to start a proper discussion about ways of harnessing and influencing people’s health beliefs, rather than always trying to discount them.  Even the term ‘placebo’ now has negative connotations, rather than being seen as a useful tool in the clinician’s bag.

What do you think? Should we be sticking to the narrow and reductive route of evidence based medicine to the exclusion of all else, or is there benefit in looking at a more holistic view of healthcare that uses all the levers it can find, even (perhaps especially) the ones that reside inside our own heads?

The issues obviously matter in the determination and implementation of ‘best care’, but it may also be relevant when we consider professional knowledge transfer; how and why do professionals change their practice, and how can we influence that? Can it be done scientifically, by assuming that this week’s articles in the Lancet will translate into next week’s clinics, or is there something deeper that influences how clinicians think, how their beliefs affect their behaviour? If the latter is true, we may need to augment those scientific journals with ‘softer’, more fuzzy approaches, the kind of tools used in social marketing.

I’d be very interested in your views…

One thought on “Kissing it better: beliefs in modern medicine

  1. Adrian Canale-Parola says:

    Hi Jonathan, this is a fascinating area for me personally (my wife is an acupuncturist in the traditional Chinese sense), so we have many debates & discussions! I’ve come to understand that we cannot use a “hard scientific Western model” as the only way of measuring added value for interventions in health (a bit like saying a metre ruler is the only way of measuring everything, including weight, colour, pitch etc), and rubbish everything that hasn’t got RCT evidence to underpin it (indeed if we did, I expect a lot of what I do as a GP would be on shaky ground). Simply being accepted as a healer (with the weight of sapiential authority) is in itself a hugely powerful tool, the value of which is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, as is the value of other healing disciplines, if we insist on our metre ruler. I guess the trick is to come up with a holistic measuring device, and demonstrate its value to society, rather than be restricted by the tick-box tools currently used; sadly I have no magic answer!

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