Survey: Nearly Half of Doctors Prescribe Placebos
About 45% of physicians at three U.S. medical schools in the Chicago area have prescribed placebos to patients, and 96% believe that patients can benefit from placebos, according to a study published on Thursday in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, Bloomberg/Arizona Daily Star reports (Bloomberg/Arizona Daily Star, 1/4).
For the study, Rachel Sherman, a medical student at the University of Chicago, and John Hickner, a professor of family medicine at the university, sent a survey to 466 physicians at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and University of Illinois-Chicago and received 231 responses (Steenhuysen, Reuters/Boston Globe, 1/4).
According to the survey, respondents said that placebos can help calm patients, supplement other medications, control pain, satisfy unnecessary requests for treatments and address complaints from patients. Only 12% of respondents said that physicians should never prescribe placebos to patients, the survey found (Ritter, Chicago Sun-Times, 1/4).
The use of placebos raises ethical concerns because many physicians do not inform patients that their prescriptions likely would not have any physical effects, study authors said. About 34% of respondents who have prescribed placebos described them as substances that "may help and will not hurt," compared with 19% who described them as medications and 4% who described them as placebos, the survey found (Bloomberg/Arizona Daily Star, 1/4). In addition, about 48% of respondents said that they prescribe medications to patients without any evidence of likely effectiveness, according to the survey.
The American Medical Association recommends that physicians prescribe placebos only with the informed consent of patients and not "merely to mollify a difficult patient" (Chicago Sun-Times, 1/4).
NPR's "Morning Edition" on Thursday reported on a study conducted by Harvard University researchers that examined the placebo effect and weight. The segment includes comments from Martin Binks, director of behavioral health at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center; Howard Brody, director of the Institute for Medical Humanities at the University of Texas; and study author Ellen Langer, a psychologist at Harvard (Spiegel, "Morning Edition," NPR, 1/3).
Audio and a partial transcript of a segment are available online.