(NaturalNews) Half of general practitioners and rheumatologists regularly prescribe their patients drugs just to produce a psychological effect, according to a survey conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health and published in the British Medical Journal.
Rheumatologists treat disorders of the joints and connective tissues, such as arthritis.
Of 679 doctors surveyed, more than 60 percent said that it is ethical to prescribe a placebo to patients, approximately 50 percent said they did so at least two to three times per month, and most of these said they did not inform patients that the prescription was only for a placebo.
Researchers have confirmed that the "placebo effect," in which a patient feels better merely because they believe they have been given treatment, has an actual physiological basis. When patients are given a placebo, changes take place in their bodies that actually improve their health.
The American Medical Association (AMA) considers the prescription of placebos unethical, however, unless a patient is explicitly informed what they are getting.
"In the clinical setting, the use of a placebo without the patient's knowledge may undermine trust, compromise the patient-physician relationship, and result in medical harm to the patient," said a 2006 AMA ethics panel. "A placebo must not be given merely to mollify a difficult patient, because doing so serves the convenience of the physician more than it promotes the patient's welfare."
Few doctors reported using pharmacologically neutral placebos such as sugar pills; the most common placebos used were vitamins or over-the-counter painkillers. Approximately 13 percent of respondents said they used sedatives as placebos, while another 13 percent admitted to prescribing antibiotics.
"There was probably a time in medicine when [doctors] were using these more routinely, in perhaps a more paternalistic era," said researcher Jon Tilburt. "I think there remains this general impulse among physicians to want to help and to promote the healing that comes from psychological expectations."