97 pc UK docs prescribe 'impure' placebos to patients at least once
Washington, March 21 : A team of researchers at the Universities of Oxford and Southampton has discovered that 97 per cent of UK doctors have used 'impure' placebo treatments to patients at least once in their career, while 12pc have used 'pure' placebos.
'Impure' placebos are treatments that are unproven, such as antibiotics for suspected viral infections, or more commonly non-essential physical examinations and blood tests performed to reassure patients.
'Pure' placebos are treatments such as sugar pills or saline injections, which contain no active ingredients.
A random sample of doctors- registered with the General Medical Council (GMC)- was surveyed online and returned 783 responses.
"This is not about doctors deceiving patients," said Dr Jeremy Howick, co-lead author of the study.
"The study shows that placebo use is widespread in the UK, and doctors clearly believe that placebos can help patients," he added.
The survey showed that doctors prescribing both pure and impure placebos reported doing so for broadly similar reasons. Placebos were mainly given to either induce psychological treatment effects, because patients requested treatment or to reassure patients.
Ethical attitudes towards placebo usage varied among doctors, with 66pc saying that pure placebos are ethically acceptable under certain circumstances and 33pc saying they are never acceptable.
Impure placebos were more widely accepted, with 84pc of doctors deeming them acceptable.
"Current ethical rulings on placebos ought to be revisited in light of the strong evidence suggesting that doctors broadly support their use," said Howick.
For both pure and impure placebos, over 90pc of doctors objected to their use where it endangered patient/doctor trust and over 80pc were against using them if it involved deception.
The study was published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE.