Is One of Your Medications a Placebo?

Almost half of doctors use placebos to treat patients, but only 4% are up front with patients about it, according to an American Medical Association article. Having doctors admit that they dance around the truth to get patients to agree to a medication they don’t know is a fake is troubling. It also poses ethical questions about patient-provider relationships. But…

Placebos have an important role in medical treatment. I’d be thrilled if one did the trick for me. Telling the patient that they’re getting a placebo undermines the placebo effect, thus negating the potential benefit. I wouldn’t want to know if my doctor prescribed a placebo for me — at least not at first. However, I also expect my doctors to be honest with me.

The phrases physicians used were:

  • “[It is] a substance that may help and will not hurt. “34%
  • “This may help you, but I’m not sure how it works.” 33%
  • “It is medication.” 19%
  • “It is medicine with no specific effect.” 9%
  • “It is a placebo.” 4%

The article Doctors Use Placebos But Don’t Tell Patients describes the study and the American Medical Association’s response to it.