Exploring communication pathways to better health: Clinician communication of expectations for acupuncture effectiveness

Richard L. Street, Vanessa Cox, Michael A. Kallen, Maria E. Suarez-Almazor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Objective: This study tested a pathway whereby acupuncturists' communication of optimism for treatment effectiveness would enhance patients' satisfaction during treatment, which in turn would contribute to better pain and function outcomes for patients with osteoarthritis of the knee. Methods: Secondary analysis from a 2 arm (real vs. sham acupuncture, high vs. neutral expectations) RCT. 311 patients with knee osteoarthritis received acupuncture over 10-12 sessions. Coders rated the degree to which acupuncturists communicated optimism for the treatment's effectiveness. Satisfaction with acupuncture was assessed 4 weeks into treatment. Pain and function were assessed 6 weeks following treatment. Results: Patients experiencing better outcomes were more satisfied with acupuncture during treatment, were younger, and had better baseline pain and function scores. Satisfaction during treatment was greater when patients interacted with more optimistic clinicians and had higher pretreatment expectations for acupuncture efficacy. Conclusion: Acupuncturists' communication of optimism about treatment effectiveness contributed to pain and function outcomes indirectly through its effect on satisfaction during treatment. Future research should model pathways through which clinician-patient communication affects mediating variables that in turn lead to improved health outcomes. Practical Implications: While clinicians should not mislead patients, communicating hope and optimism for treatment effectiveness has therapeutic value for patients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)245-251
Number of pages7
JournalPatient education and counseling
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 2012


  • Acupuncture
  • Clinician-patient communication
  • Health outcomes
  • Pain
  • Placebo

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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