60-Second Science

Docs Make Fake Pills Real Meds

A new study finds that a significant number of physicians will on occasion knowingly prescribe a placebo. Cynthia Graber reports.

By now we’ve all heard about the placebo affect:­ just by thinking a pill will help cure what ails you, it often does. Well, it turns out doctors sometimes take advantage of the placebo affect. Yes, doctors ­ at least doctors in Chicago,­ occasionally purposely prescribe placebos. That’s according to a study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

Of 231 internists in Chicago who answered a survey, 45 percent say they’ve used placebos on occasion. The medicines of choice included antibiotics, vitamins, ibuprofen, and amounts of medication too small to be therapeutic.  All prescribed for situations in which those pills shouldn¹t have had an effect on the patient’s particular complaint.

About a third of the doctors told patients that the pills might help and certainly won’t hurt.  About 20 percent simply tell them that it’s medicine. So even though prescribing placebos remains controversial, clearly some docs are doing it. Decades ago, physicians prescribed placebos to distinguish who had a real problem and who was faking it. Today, they recognize the reality of the mind-body connection, and that placebos can sometimes be just what the doctor ordered.

–Cynthia Graber

Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

Starting Thanksgiving

Enter code: HOLIDAY 2015
at checkout

Get 20% off now! >


Email this Article