Text messaging reduces need for pain relief during minor surgery
Patients who text messaged a stranger just before minor surgeries required less supplemental pain relief than patients receiving standard therapy or distraction techniques, according to a recent study published in Pain Medicine.
A team or researchers at Cornell University have found that the simple act of texting someone on a mobile phone during a minor surgical procedure performed under local anesthetic can significantly reduce a patient’s demand for narcotic pain relief. If the text is sent to a stranger, the odds that a patient will ask for medication to take the edge off drop to as little as one-sixth of those who go under the knife with empty hands.
Building on research that has shown social support before and during medical procedures can reduce anxiety and perceptions of pain, Jeff Hancock, a communications and information science professor at Cornell, and his team decided to test whether mobile phones that allow patients to send text messages or play games could bring that support benefit into settings where the company of family members or friends is not possible.
The researchers tracked four groups of patients: those receiving standard mobile-phone-free perioperative treatment; those using a mobile phone to play the game Angry Birds; patients using a mobile phone to text with a close friend or family member; and others invited to text with a research assistant instructed to focus on ‘getting to know you’ conversations. Neither the patient volunteers taking part, the research assistant texting nor nine out of the 10 treating anaesthesiologists (the lone exception being co-author Christopher Woodruff) were aware of the nature of the research, and in all cases treatment was left entirely to the discretion of the physicians.
When the team analysed the results, they found that patients receiving ‘standard therapy’ – those not using mobile phones during surgery – were almost twice as likely to receive supplemental pain relief as patients who played Angry Birds before and during the procedure. The same patients were more than four times as likely to receive additional analgesic as those texting a companion and, most notably, more than six times as likely to receive additional narcotic relief as patients who engaged in a texting conversation with a stranger.
To verify the latter effect and explore its source, the team took the additional step of analysing the language of the two groups allowed to text during their surgeries: while text conversations with companions related more to biology, the body and negative emotions; the texts with a stranger included more words expressing positive emotions, with patients writing more often about self-affirming topics.
“Our findings suggest that text messaging may be a more effective intervention that requires no specialised equipment or involvement from clinicians,” the authors wrote. “Importantly, text-based communication may allow for the analgesic-sparing benefits of social support to be introduced to other clinical settings where this type of support is not otherwise available.”
Guillory, J.E., Hancock, J.T., Woodruff, C. & Keilman, J. (2015) Text messaging reduced analgesic requirements during surgery. Pain Medicine 16(4), 667–672