Half of all doctors in the United States regularly prescribe placebos to patients despite clear professional rules that forbid the practice, according to a nationwide survey. The results troubled medical ethicists, who said that more research is needed to determine whether doctors must deceive patients for placebos to work.
In response to three separate questions included as part of the larger survey, about half of 679 internists and rheumatologists chosen randomly from a national list of doctors reported recommending placebos on a regular basis.
The most common placebos the doctors reported using were headache pills and vitamins, but a significant number also reported prescribing antibiotics and sedatives. Although these drugs are not all inert, the usual definition of placebos, doctors reported using them for their effect on patients’ psyches, not their bodies.
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