Survey: More than half of docs use placebos

December 5, 2008
Morgan Lewis Jr.
Morgan Lewis Jr.

More than half of U.S. internal medicine physicians and rheumatologists who responded to a survey by the British Medical Journal report using a placebo treatment with patients.

More than half of U.S. internal medicine physicians and rheumatologists who responded to a survey by the British Medical Journal report using a placebo treatment with patients, and most believed it to be an ethical practice.

Defined as "a treatment whose benefits derive from positive patient expectations and not from the physiological mechanism of the treatment itself," placebos were used on a regular basis by 48 percent to 58 percent of the 679 physicians who responded to the survey, while 62 percent approved of their use.

Most physicians report over-the-counter analgesics and vitamins as their most frequently prescribed placebos, while 13 percent have prescribed antibiotics or sedatives.

"Face it, many patients believe they need to take something to feel better," Scherger writes. "Best to give them something innocent and supportive of the sense that they will recover. Healing happens fast that way."