Viewpoint: No, the placebo effect is not increasing, but bedside manners do impact perceived drug efficacy

hispanic woman doctor comforting disabled elderly patient mexican women
[A] new article, published in Psychology Today, purports that the “Placebo Effect is Growing.” In the author’s words, “Over the last several years evidence has been accumulating that placebo effects are becoming more powerful. … differences in the magnitude of their [medications] impact relative to placebos are decreasing in size.” The placebo effect is real, but what this article offers is not.

[Editor’s note: Read the Psychology Today story here]

…He goes on to suggest that the direct to consumer advertisement of pain medications may be heightening our placebo response by increasing our expectation of pain relief. Lyrica is the only pain medication in the top 10 most advertised drugs; used for fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain. And in those ads, Lyrica boasts more of improved patient mobility than pain relief.

[F]ar and away the most salient part of the article is introducing us to Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, currently the director of Harvard’s Program in Placebo Studies.

… Dr. Kaptchuk parlayed a degree in Chinese Medicine into a full-time faculty position at Harvard and evidently a successful practice. But at some point, he was able to strip away the artifice of acupuncture, herbs and all those messy treatments that require evidence-based medicine and concentrate on what he and I agree is the healing power of medicine – the relationship of physician and patient.

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The placebo effect is real, entangled in what people have called the art of medicine, but is genuinely medicine’s soul, “ritual, symbols, meaning, empathy, hope, compassion, and trust.” Especially those last four, the basis of all relationships…But rather than call it a placebo effect, let us call it by its real name, bedside manner. We don’t use that term so much anymore; it is difficult to standardize, quantify and incentivize. It also pulls back the veil on something that medicine finds hard to reconcile about itself; medicine is an applied art, p-values and predictive algorithms do not make it science.

Read full, original post: Psychology Today Is Wrong, The Placebo Effect Is Not Growing

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