Nearly ALL doctors have given patients a placebo – either to keep them happy or reassure them
97% admitted giving placebos that are not proven, such as antibiotics for a viral infection 12% had used ‘pure’ placebos, such as sugar pills, which have no medicinal value at allMost placebos given to reassure patients, or to produce a psychological effect

By
Daily Mail Reporter

PUBLISHED:

22:58 GMT, 20 March 2013

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UPDATED:

22:58 GMT, 20 March 2013

Doctors clearly believe placebos can help patients, the research found

Doctors clearly believe placebos can help patients, the research found

Nearly all doctors have given their patients placebos, a study has found.

Researchers say 97 per cent admitted giving patients ‘impure’ placebos – those which have medicinal value but are unproven in the context, such as antibiotics for a viral infection – at least once in their careers

Meanwhile, 12 per cent had used ‘pure’ placebos, such as sugar pills, which have no medicinal value at all

Oxford research fellow Dr Jeremy Howick, one of the study’s leaders, said: ‘This is not about doctors deceiving patients.

'The study shows placebo use is widespread in the UK, and doctors clearly believe placebos can help patients.’

The doctors surveyed gave similar reasons for prescribing both pure and impure placebos.

They said they gave the medicines because patients had requested treatment, to reassure patients, or to produce a psychological effect.

Placebo usage goes against current GMC ethical codes, although the researchers say these should now be re-evaluated.

Dr Howick added: ‘Current ethical rulings on placebos ought to be revisited in light of the strong evidence suggesting doctors broadly support their use.’

Of the doctors surveyed, 66 per cent said pure placebos were ethically acceptable in certain circumstances, while 33 per cent said they were never acceptable. Impure placebos were considered acceptable by 84 per cent of doctors.

Most doctors had given placebos which had a medicinal value, but were unproven in the context, such as antibiotics for a viral infection such as a sore throat

Most doctors had given placebos which had a medicinal value, but were unproven in the context, such as antibiotics for a viral infection such as a sore throat

More than 90 per cent objected to using either type if it endangered patient/doctor trust, but nearly 20 per cent said they might use placebos even if it involved deception.

The study, by academics at the Universities of Oxford and Southampton, surveyed a random sample of doctors online, receiving 783 responses.

Professor George Lewith, of the University of Southampton, said: ‘This study demonstrates doctors are generally using placebos in good faith to help patients. Previous studies by Southampton have clearly shown placebos can help many people.

‘The placebo effect works by releasing our body’s own natural painkillers into our nervous system.

'In my opinion the stigma attached to placebo use is irrational, and further investigation is needed to develop ethical, cost-effective placebos.’