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What’s a placebo?

More on pills: The BMJ released the results of a survey of 673 doctors that found that about half prescribe placebos to their patients.

Not literally sugar pills but vitamins and headache pills. Medicines that aren’t typically used for a given condition that might benefit the patient, is the way the survey question was phrased.

Questions abound: What’s a placebo? Do patients who don’t know the medication is a placebo do better than those who do? Than those who are prescribed nothing? When is okay for doctors to do this? Is it ever okay?

Dr. Howard Brody, director of the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in Galveston, trumped others quoted in the story with this wisdom:

“Doctors should resist using placebos, because they reinforce the deleterious notion that when something is the matter with you, you will not get better unless you swallow pills.”

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