A provocative new study finds that 20 percent of physicians — including psychiatrists — have prescribed a placebo.
Amir Raz, Ph.D., a McGill University psychiatry professor, developed a survey given to professionals employed in Canadian medical schools.
Raz discovered an even higher proportion of psychiatrists (more than 35 per cent) reported prescribing subtherapeutic doses of medication (that is, doses that are below, sometimes considerably below, the minimum recommended therapeutic level) to treat their patients.
Prescribing pseudoplacebos – treatments that are active in principle, but that are unlikely to be effective for the condition being treated, e.g., using vitamins to treat chronic insomnia – is more widespread than once thought, according to the survey.
The survey, which was also designed to explore attitudes toward placebo use, found that the majority of responding psychiatrists (more than 60 per cent) believe that placebos can have therapeutic effects. This is a significantly higher proportion than other medical practitioners.
“Psychiatrists seem to place more value in the influence placebos wield on the mind and body,” said Raz. Only 2 per cent of those psychiatrists believe that placebos have no clinical benefit at all.
“While most physicians probably appreciate the clinical merits of placebos, limited guidelines and scientific knowledge, as well as ethical considerations, impede open discussion about the best way we may want re-introduce placebos into the medical milieu,” Raz said. “This survey provides a valuable starting point for further investigations into Canadian physicians’ attitudes towards and use of placebos.”
Source: McGill University