The placebo effect

Is it unethical for a doctor to prescribe a placebo to you?

It may happen more often than we think, according to a study out today.


A University of Chicago research team sent surveys about placebo use to 466 internists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University and the University of Illinois — Chicago. Half of the recipients responded, and 45 percent of the respondents reported giving a patient a placebo at least once during their years of practice.

Only 4 percent of the doctors told their patients that the pills — usually sugar pills — were worthless.

“I think this shows that it strikes a chord among physicians. We may underestimate the body’s natural healing potential,” said Rachel Sherman, a medical student at the University of Chicago, whose study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The use of a placebo in medical studies is fairly common. But this study focuses on regular clinical use.

There’s one other health-related story today: The Centers for Disease Control reports for the first time, confirmation of the suspicion that you can get norovirus — stomach flu — from a computer keyboard or mouse.

  • Minn whaler

    OK, I can get a virus from a keyboard or mouse. In other words (I hope) this means it is a virus one gets by touching keys or mice that have previously been touched by a carrier and then putting them (my fingers) in my mouth before washing my hands. Gadzooks what a discovery, touching objects such as doorknobs, faucets, etc. that are touched by many throughout a day increases the risk of passing or catching a virus. How much money went into that amazing discovery?

    In case some of you aren’t getting this… WASH your HANDS before and after using commonly shared objects.

    And this is not just for employees using the restroom.

    I know I’ll sleep better tonight with this astounding new knowledge… sigh

  • Tony Lopez

    Minn Whaler, your response reminds me of the humorist Andy Borowitz. He’ll occasionally wittily riff on medical studies like the one the CDC released. Then, he’ll say something like, “The study’s findings will be reported in next week’s edition of “Duh” Magazine.”

    As for the placebo issue, it seems cut and dried. It is unethical if there is no informed consent. I would be, to put it mildly, a little ticked off, if I had been a patient of one of the 4% of the doctors who didn’t think it was worth mentioning.

    (Collins notes: The tip-off should’ve been the 25 cent co-pay.)

  • Awkward Moment

    I’m pretty sure my doctor prescribed me a Placebo a couple months ago, but when I took it, it didn’t do anything for me…and then, when I looked at the bottle more closely, I saw that the pharmacy had given me the GENERIC. It probably would have worked if it was brand-name Placebo. You can’t always trust the generics.