Placebos can be acceptable to patients, study suggests

Patients can accept that placebo treatments are effective, but want to be informed when they are taking them, a study suggests.

Research published in the British Journal of General Practice found that there was substantial agreement between patients and physicians that conditions can improve if patients believe in the effectiveness of therapy.

In the study, conducted in Switzerland, 232 GPs and 414 patients were asked about their views of placebos. Although patients accepted that placebos could be effective, 70% wanted to informed that they were taking a placebo. Only 33% of doctors thought that patients would want to know this.

The researchers said: ‘Even when a treatment with a statistically proven effect is available, it may not work satisfactorily for an individual patient. Although a clear diagnosis and specific treatment remain important goals to be strived for, the role of nonspecific interventions should not be underestimated: either as substitutes for non existing specific interventions, signalling to patients they are not left alone with their problem, or as enhancers of specific therapies.'

A study published in December 2010 suggested that placebos administered without deception may be an effective treatment for Irritable Bowel Syndrome. The researchers concluded that further studies of the effect were needed in this and other conditions to see whether patients might benefit from using placebos with informed consent.

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