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Clin Orthop Relat Res. 1997 Mar;(336):94-106.

Compensation neurosis: financial reward for illness as nocebo.


Results of medical treatment are notoriously poor in patients with pending litigation after personal injury or disability claims, and for those covered by workers' compensation programs. Although some instances of overt malingering are documented by surveillance videos, most exaggerated illness behavior in compensation situations takes place because of a combination of suggestion, somatization, and rationalization. A distorted sense of justice, victim status, and entitlement may further the exaggerated sick role. Adversarial administrative and legal systems challenging the claimant to prove repeatedly he or she is permanently ill harden the conviction of illness and the individual's defense of the claim. Unfortunately, after advocating for one's injury before a sometimes doubting public for the several years required to resolve such claims, care eliciting behavior too often remains permanent. Because any improvement in the claimant's health condition may result in denial of disability status in the future, the claimant is compelled to guard against getting well and is left with no honorable way to recover from illness. Financial reward for illness thus functions as a powerful nocebo, a nonspecific force creating and exacerbating illness. Solutions require recognition that judging disability and work incapacity in others is an unscientific process and that adversarial systems rewarding permanent illness or injury, particularly self reported pain, are often permanently harmful. The remainder of the solution must be political.

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