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10/24/2008

Nurse, Give This Patient a Placebo.

A new study published in British Medical Journal has shown that almost half of internists have prescribed drugs that were expected to have nothing more than placebo effect. As reported by Bloomberg, these useless prescriptions were handed out as often as 2 or 3 times per month.

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Why would docs do this? To increase “positive patient expectations” says Jon Tilbert, author of the study. Among the physicians who participated in the study, 67 percent reported that they believe that this practice is ethical or even morally obligatory.

This is perhaps the best data yet to prove that there is rampant consumerism in healthcare and that physicians are complicit. Prescribing drugs and other unnecessary treatments merely to satisfy the whims of demanding patients who have “expectations” physicians believe must be met, even if this were in the service of maintaining the physician-patient relationship, is not acceptable. This practice, instead of promoting rapport and trust and good communication between doctor and patient, actually erodes it.

That is, if the patient ever knew. But then again, why would a patient ever complain or feel unhappy when they are getting everything they want? Even so, this is unethical, plain and simple. Promoting positive patient experience by prescribing drugs that are no more than placebos is simply unacceptable and unsustainable for the ethical practice of medicine.

Summer Johnson, PhD

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