Sunday, April 7, 2013

Doctors Prescribing Placebos — Unethical or Quality Care?

A survey published by the British journal PLOS ONE reveals 97 percent of primary care physicians in the United Kingdom admitted to prescribing placebos at least once, inciting a public debate about medical ethics, physician honesty, and quality patient care, reports Forbes.

With the word placebo, you might picture patients unknowingly swallowing sugar pills that have no medical purpose, aside from possible psychological effects. However, there are two types of placebos — the “pure” kind — which can in fact take the form of a sugar pill — and the “impure” kind, which can be anything from antibiotics for a viral infection, to off-label uses of medications, to tests that are not medically necessary but will put the patient’s mind at ease.

Only 12 percent of physicians say they have given patients a pure placebo, while nearly all — 97 percent — say they have at one point prescribed a form of impure placebo. Seventy-seven percent say they routinely employ impure placebos in their practice. A majority of physicians surveyed believe both forms of placebo are ethical under certain circumstances (66 percent for pure, 84 percent for impure).

What’s your opinion on the matter? Is it ethical for physicians to prescribe placebos to patients, either pure or impure? Are placebos just doctor deception or another step towards quality care?

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