Patients who text message just prior to surgery end up needing less pain medication

New research indicates that the social support a patient gets when text messaging before surgery decreases the need for additional pain management.

When someone goes in for surgery, even if it’s minor, it can be scary and unsettling. Pain medication will be administered regardless, but a new study shows that the social support a patient experiences by text messaging before a procedure can reduce the need for supplemental pain relief – even if it’s texting a stranger.

Researchers at RTI International, Cornell University and LaSalle Hospital (Montreal, QC), recently published a study in Pain Medicine that indicated the influence mobile phones have in the clinical setting.

“These findings suggest that the simple act of communicating with a companion or stranger reduces the need for supplemental anesthesia in a way that surpasses usual perioperative care during surgery,” said Jamie Guillory Ph.D., digital media health research scientist RTI who conducted the study while at Cornell. “This is significant as the physical presence of a social support companion is often not feasible during many minor surgery procedures.”

As RTI International reported:

Researchers recruited 98 patients receiving general anesthesia for minor surgeries in Montreal, Quebec between January and March 2012. They randomly assigned patients to text message with a companion, text message with a stranger, play a mobile phone game for distraction, or receive surgery (i.e. do nothing).

Texting was more effective than playing games. But interestingly enough, texting a stranger reduced the need for pain management even more than texting a loved one. The researchers believe that this is because conversations with a stranger tend to be more positive.

“Consistent with this finding, previous research shows that engaging in activities that reinforce a person’s core values helps people to endure a pain tolerance task longer,” Guillory said.

Conversations with a loved one tend to be more focused on the surgery and might be more emotionally negative, or perhaps induce nerves and shared anxiety.

“Although at first it seems counterintuitive that text messaging with a stranger was more effective than with a companion, it’s the content of the conversation that makes the difference in reducing patients’ need for pain relief during surgery,” Guillory said.

With a constant focus on how it’s bad for our eyes to constantly be staring at a screen and how texting negatively affects our posture – it’s somewhat refreshing to hear of a way texting can be beneficial to our health.