Texting someone on a mobile phone during a minor surgical procedure done under local anaesthetic can significantly reduce a patient’s demand for narcotic pain relief, according to researchers.
If the person texting is a stranger the odds of a patient asking for medications to control pain could be as little as one-sixth of those undergoing surgery without their mobile, they said.
Researchers from Cornell University in New York and McGill University in Montreal decided to test whether mobile phones that allowed patients to send text messages or play games could bring support benefit into settings where the company of family members or friends was not possible.
“Our findings suggest that text messaging may be a more effective intervention”
They tracked four groups of patients, of which there were 98 in total. They either received standard mobile phone-free perioperative treatment, a mobile phone to play the game Angry Birds, a mobile phone to text with a close friend or family member, or a phone to text a research assistant instructed to focus on “getting to know you” conversations.
The study found that patients receiving standard therapy were almost twice as likely to receive supplemental pain relief as patients who played the game before and during the procedure.
In addition, the same patients were more than four times as likely to receive additional analgesic as those texting a companion and – most notably, said the researchers – more than six times as likely to receive additional narcotic relief as patients who engaged in a texting conversation with a stranger.
The team also took the additional step of analysing the language of the two texting groups. They found that, while the text conversations with companions related more to biology, the body and negative emotions, those with a stranger included more words expressing positive emotions, with patients writing more often about self-affirming topics.
The study authors said their research provided the first evidence that texting offered a benefit beyond traditional treatment or even “distraction” methods such as playing a video game.
“These findings suggest that the simple act of communicating with a companion or stranger provides an analgesic-sparing effect,” said the study authors in the journal Pain Medicine. “The data also suggest that text-based communication with a stranger is more effective.”
“Our findings suggest that text messaging may be a more effective intervention that requires no specialized equipment or involvement from clinicians,” they added.