Hugs, Tweets, and Physician Reimbursement — A Problem for Pay-For-Performance

According to recent research, a hug a day could keep the doctor away. According to another study, twitter can predict the chance that people will experience heart attacks. A normal blogger would look at these two findings and tell a story about the relationship between stress and health. I’m not normal. I looked at these two studies and came to a different conclusion – that we need to change the way we reimburse physicians.

Want to know how I arrived at that view? Let’s start with a quick look at the two studies.

A research team headed by Sheldon Cohen from the University of Pittsburgh exposed volunteers to Rhinovirus particles and monitored them for signs and symptoms of illness, going as far as weighing their nasal mucus. (Isn’t research fun!) Consistent with previous research, they found that people under psychological stress were more likely to become sick, unless they reported having strong social support in their lives. You see, stress creates a neurohumoral cascade, a series of physiologic reactions in the body that impair the immune system. But social support can buffer the immune system.

Even more interestingly, Cohen discovered that hugs – the likelihood that a volunteer was hugged each day – further buffered people’s immune systems, reducing colds even after accounting for the other kinds of social support people received. Hugs are good medicine!

What does this hugging study have to do with physician pay?

In the old days, health care reimbursement was based primarily on the volume of services medical providers provided.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.