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A8. The Power of Positive Words

The field of pediatric pulmonology involves taking caring of patients with many different lung problems.  Many of the patients I have taken care of have asthma.  Fortunately, my work with these patients provided me with the opportunity to help people become completely healed.  Caring for patients with asthma is very rewarding, because usually such patients respond readily to their therapy.  The secret with helping these patients do well is to convince them to take their medications as prescribed.


Through trial and error I learned how to cajole my patients into inhaling a foul smelling asthma medication.  In the following example, I introduce 12-year-old Naomi to such therapy.


“This medication comes in two flavors,” I explained.  “Yucky and mint yucky.”


Naomi made a face.


“What flavor would you like?” I asked.


“Mint, I think.”


“Good!  Do you know why the yucky flavor is there?” I asked.


She shook her head.


“It’s there to remind you to rinse your mouth out after you inhale this medication,” I explained.  “Do you know why you would want to rinse your mouth out?”




“So you won’t get athlete’s foot of the mouth,” I concluded with triumph. I explained to Naomi’s mother that patients who use this medication can develop a fungus infection in the mouth, and that athlete’s foot is a kind of fungus infection.




It took me several years to figure out why my “patter” was effective in helping children take this medication.  First, I gave them a choice.  By choosing one form of the “yucky” medication the children were cooperating with its prescription.  Next, I gave them an important reason for the poor taste of the medicine.  The taste was there to help prevent something bad from happening. Finally, the image of “athlete’s foot of the mouth” is a memorable one.  Few children who remembered this image forgot to rinse their mouth out.


I knew that my message was getting through when I wanted to change the “yucky” medication to a different one. 


“I have good news for you,” I told Naomi.  “The new medication hardly has any flavor at all.”


“But how will I remember to rinse my mouth out afterwards?” asked Naomi.


Bingo! My message must have been heard loud and clear, I thought.


Thus, I learned that the words I use to accompany prescription of a medication have an important impact on how well the medication might work for a patient. 




Ran D. Anbar, MD is the founder of Center Point Medicine in La Jolla, California.  Before founding Center Point Medicine, Dr. Anbar was Director of the Division of Pediatric Pulmonology at the SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY.  For more information about Dr. Anbar and the medical counseling and hypnosis services provided at Center Point Medicine, please contact

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