High percentage of US patients on placebos without knowing it

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Friday, January 4, 2008

Prescription placebos used in research and practice.

A new study amongst doctors in the United States on the use of placebos—pills with no medical effect—shows that almost half of the questioned practitioners prescribe placebos, most of them within the last year.

The majority of 466 faculty physicians at Chicago-area medical schools interviewed by a research group of the University of Chicago stated that placebos are useful to calm a patient down or to respond to demands for medication that the doctor disagrees with, i.e. "to get the patient to stop complaining".

96 percent of the physicians surveyed believe that placebos can have therapeutic effects. Close to 40 percent stated that placebos could benefit patents physiologically as well as mentally.

Twelve percent of surveyed physicians think that placebos should be banned from clinical practice. Among the doctors who prescribed them, one in five said they outright lied to patients by claiming a placebo was medication. But more often the physicians came up with ways to explain like that "this may help you but I'm not sure how it works."

The American Medical Association (AMA), the largest association of U.S. doctors and medical students, tells its members that "[p]hysicians may use placebos for diagnosis or treatment only if the patient is informed of and agrees to its use." The research, published in Journal of General Internal Medicine this week, is the first major U.S. study of doctors on the use of placebos since 1979.


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