by Charly Miller, EMT-P Editors Note: This article will mark the first in a series covering patient communication techniques and how emergency care providers can utilize these skills to improve patient care. As always, we appreciate your feedback on our articles and columns.

This page was originally published in's September, 1998 issue.

Communication is more than just words - especially more than written words! To fully appreciate how profoundly emergency patients are affected by communication, providers must first develop an understanding of what communication is, and especially how communication effects emergency patients.

The Components of Communication

Communication involves all the human senses. Everything a person can see, hear, smell, feel, taste or otherwise perceive, contributes to their perception and interpretation of the world around them. That's their perception of communication.

Each freshly received new communication-sense stimulus is processed in a person's brain. There it combines with, and is augmented by, all stored communication-sense stimuli. Once processed, all communication-sense stimulus contributes to the immediate development of conscious and subconscious personal impressions.

Then rapidly, these personal impressions automatically and subconsciously combine to create personal beliefs. The development of beliefs is the end product of communication stimulus processing.

The Power of Beliefs

Beliefs are incredibly powerful things - powerful enough to accomplish almost anything! Of the many examples of "belief power," I've selected my two favorite (and most easily recognized) examples to share with you.

Beliefs are powerful enough to "miraculously" improve performance. Athletic trainers and sports psychologists have known this for years. Athletes are routinely coached in the art of practicing "imagery" in order to develop the belief that personal performance can be improved - the belief that a record can be broken - the belief that an event can be won. Imagery-created beliefs have been shown, over and over, to produce miraculous results.

Although I'm not sure whether he consciously employed imagery, a perfect example involves an Englishman named Roger Banister. In 1964, Mr. Banister ran the mile in less than 4 minutes. Before he accomplished this feat, it was believed impossible for any human to do so. Yet once done, other athletes immediately realized the belief that it was possible for them to do it, too. Within months of the new record, high school students were running the mile in less than 4 minutes! Roger Banister's most important accomplishment was not breaking the previous speed record. His most important accomplishment was that he made it possible for others to run faster, because he broke the "belief barrier."

Beliefs are powerful enough to improve or cure almost any condition or ailment! Researchers performing human studies to examine the effectiveness of new medications use two groups. One group is given the research drug. The other is the "control group," which is administered placebos instead of the test medicine (often sugar pills or normal saline injections).

The patients have no idea that they might be receiving a placebo instead of the "real" medication. The care providers who administer the research substance (medication or placebo) may understand the process of medication research, but they have no idea whether they are administering the "real thing" or the placebo.

Both groups' response results are compared and evaluated. On a regular basis, 50 to 60 percent of the group receiving the placebo have identical physiologic effects as those patients receiving the medication! This is entirely due to the fact that the placebo group believes they are receiving a medication that should have specific, positive results. This is dramatic evidence that belief can effect physiologic or chemical bodily functions and sensations!

Next month we'll explore The psychological effects produced by experiencing an emergency and how emergency care providers can improve a patient's condition - can even improve a patient's response to treatment - by actively providing positive suggestions to their hypersuggestible patients.

1 Patient Communication For First Responders and EMS Personnel - The First Hour Of Trauma: by Dr. Donald Trent Jacobs, published by Brady, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1991.
2 Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language.

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