Placebos are widely used in medical practice, although the exact numbers are not known. Surveys have shown that somewhere between 57-97% of doctors admit to using placebos in their clinical practice. Placebos would not be used so prevalently if they did not have positive effects, but it's vitally important that placebos are used as ethically as possible to avoid harming the doctor-patient relationship. Here, we outline different types of placebo usage, the ethical considerations and the current medical guidelines for placebos in clinical practice.
There is something very empowering about the placebo effect and the idea that we can heal ourselves. For decades, we've known about the placebo effect, but we've been unable to use it ethically in healthcare. One of the primary obstacles to using placebos in healthcare, was informed consent. It was thought that placebos necessarily required deception - the patient had to believe it would work. However, renowned placebo researcher - Ted Kaptchuk - realised that no one had ever put that theory to the test. So he began a research programme into identifying if people could respond to placebos even if they knew they were taking placebos. The results have changed how we think about placebos in healthcare.