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Placebo: physician, heal thyself

Posted by plosmedicine on 30 Mar 2009 at 23:46 GMT

Author: Arunachalam Kumar
Position: Professor of Anatomy
Institution: Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore 575001 India
Additional Authors: Jairaj Kumar. C
Submitted Date: September 17, 2005
Published Date: September 20, 2005
This comment was originally posted as a “Reader Response” on the publication date indicated above. All Reader Responses are now available as comments.

Kudos to the authors for exposing the seamy side of medical research. No matter how positive the results of drug effectiveness, as demonstrated through against-placebo-comparison studies, the fact remains that the ends do not justify the means.

To knowingly and willingly induce a patient to trust in the pharmacotherapeutic effectiveness of a phony drug, not only trivializes his intelligence, but also devalues the mentor status of the treating physician.

The role of placebo therapy, though quite dramatic at times, does not sanctify the manner in which large-scale research studies pit one group of falsely-guided patients or volunteers against another. The medical and pharmacy world must relegate blind new drug-placebo comparison studies to the backburner. Medical journals too have a major role in publishing papers, which contain misinformation and which mislead.

The psychosomatic pharmacokinetics of drugs can be tested or evaluated through much less dubious means than placebo-based research.

The profession has an onus to constantly and continuously present itself as an educated partner with the patient in treatment of disease and ill health: I am quite positive that not a single volunteer would agree to participate in any placebo-new drug study, if informed of the patently false and fake nature of research protocols.

There is no gainsaying the fact that placebo therapy has a role in fighting disease, too much almost criminal injustice is perpetuated in the form of misinformation in placebo-based research studies. The sooner medical professionals and drug manufacturers proscribe placebo-based research, the better for all.

I congratulate the authors of the paper (1) in bringing to light this rather dark side of research and hope that the debate engendered will result in re-establishing the credentials of the physician as a trusted confidante of the trusting patient.

Miller FG, Wendler D, Swartzman LC (2005) Deception in Research on the Placebo Effect. PLoS Med 2(9): e262

No competing interests declared.