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December 21, 2011

Lessons From Recent Research About the Placebo Effect—From Art to Science

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliations: Department of Family Medicine, Institute for the Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston (Dr Brody); and Department of Bioethics, Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland (Dr Miller).

JAMA. 2011;306(23):2612-2613. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.1850

Medicine has been of 2 minds, so to speak, regarding the placebo effect in clinical practice. On the one hand, the placebo is disparaged as an inert and deceptive intervention intended to please or placate the patient but without any potential to produce meaningful therapeutic benefit. On the other hand, placebo effects are touted as having the power to produce substantial symptomatic relief across a wide range of medical conditions. Until recently, scientific data that elucidate the mechanisms of placebo effects and evaluate their potential to significantly enhance patient care have been lacking. During the past decade, there have been advances in scientific research on the placebo effect, paving the way for evidence-based techniques for promoting placebo responses in clinical practice in ethically appropriate ways.1 Additionally, practitioner surveys indicate that physicians today appear much more comfortable acknowledging the placebo effect as a therapeutic tool consistent with a scientific understanding of the mind-body connection.2,3

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