07/15/2013 09:00 am ET

Placebo Treatments Acceptable For Doctors To Prescribe, Survey Says


Most people think it's OK for a doctor to prescribe a placebo treatment, according to a recent survey.

The survey was conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, Kaiser Permanent Northern California, and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Results are published in the British Medical Journal.

Researchers defined placebo treatments as those "whose benefits derive from positive patient expectations rather than from the physiologic or pharmacologic mechanism of the treatment itself." They noted that use of placebo treatments have been controversial in the past because their use involves some level of deception and the harms of using a placebo can sometimes outweigh the benefits.

Researchers surveyed 853 people between ages 18 and 75 who were members of Kaiser Permanente Northern California, and who had seen a doctor for some kind of chronic health issue over the past half-year.

Researchers found that the majority of those surveyed -- between 50 and 84 percent -- said that it's OK for doctors to prescribe placebos, though the conditions for prescribing them varied. Nearly 22 percent of the survey respondents said that they thought prescribing placebos is never acceptable.

"Most patients in this survey seemed favorable to the idea of placebo treatments and valued honesty and transparency in this context, suggesting that physicians should consider engaging with patients to discuss their values and attitudes about the appropriateness of using treatments aimed at promoting placebo responses in the context of clinical decision making," the researchers wrote in the study.

Recently, a study in the journal PLoS ONE suggested that the effectiveness of placebos may depend on a person's DNA. LiveScience reported:

People with a gene variant that codes for higher levels of the brain chemical dopamine respond better to placebos than those with the low-dopamine version. The findings, reported online Oct. 23 in the journal PLoS One, could help researchers design medical studies that distinguish the placebo response from the underlying effect of a medicine -- the real aim of drug trials.

What are your opinions on placebos? Are they OK to prescribe, or not acceptable? Tell us in the comments!



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