Placebo as CAM in mainstream medicine

 Despite what we hear about the importance of evidence-based medicine, about half of the doctors in this survey say they prescribe placebo treatments “on a regular basis.”

First, the details.

  • 1200 practicing internists and rheumatologists in the US were surveyed.
  • Their behaviors and attitudes on the use of placebo treatments were recorded.

And, the results.

  • 679 physicians (57%) responded to the survey.
  • About half reported prescribing placebo treatments regularly (46% to 58%, depending on how the question was phrased).
  • 62% believed the practice is ethically permissible.
  • Few reported using saline (3%) or sugar pills (2%) as placebo treatments.
  • Many reported using over the counter pain medicine (41%) and vitamins (38%) as placebo treatments in the past year.
  • Some even reported using antibiotics (13%) and sedatives (13%) as placebo treatments.
  • Placebos were commonly described to patients as a potentially beneficial medicine or treatment not typically used for their condition (68%).
  • A few even explicitly described them as placebos (15%).

The bottom line?
The authors concluded, “Prescribing placebo treatments seems to be common and is viewed as ethically permissible among the surveyed US internists and rheumatologists.”

Do doctors have so little respect for their patients that they think it’s acceptable to fool them? And 5% of the time even tell them they’re getting a placebo?

Panda Bear is a blog written by an angry emergency department physician who states, “Almost everything about Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is bunk and its purveyors are at best deluded and at worst quacks and charlatans who would make the snake oil salesmen of olden days blush from shame.”

According to Wikipedia, a quack is a “fraudulent or ignorant pretender to medical skill.” A charlatan is “a person practicing quackery … in order to obtain money, fame or other advantages via some form of pretense or deception.

If this survey is representative, about half of internists and rheumatologists expose their patients to unproven treatments, many of which have potentially serious side effects.

Panda Bear, based on your definition, how do allopaths differ from CAM providers?

10/24/08 21:53 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.