Study: Snake Oil Wildly Popular with Health Professionals
Truthiness and paternalism are virulent diseases that undermine every institution they infect:
The study found that most of the doctors who prescribe placebo treatments typically describe them to patients as “a potentially beneficial medicine or treatment not typically used for their condition.”
Doctors told the study authors they believe this is ethical, despite the AMA’s injunction against placebo treatment. Why? Because they’re not explicitly stating that a placebo is medically supported. They’re just deliberately encouraging the misunderstanding that it is. Which, technically, they say, isn’t really deception. (Got it? Me neither).
Well, you may say, if you insist on calling it deception, it’s OK because it’s compassionate deception. It’s the intention and results that really count, right? The end justifies the means. You may imagine your favorite nurturing image:
--The kindly country doctor and his sugar pills that do indeed work. “Just not in the way she thinks,” he says smiling, a twinkle in his eye.
--The holistic healer urging homeopathic remedies and the certified masseur offering “energy work.” They’ve read but don’t mention to clients that studies show these work no better than placebo. “Sometimes they do help, so what’s wrong with that? Besides, I’d rather work from my gut, not books.”
--The specialist-recommended physical therapist whose toolkit is packed with worthless modalities like craniosacral therapy (amidst many fine ones.) “I don’t read medical journals,” she says. All I know is, plenty therapists do it, and some patients say they feel better. That’s good enough for me. And it’s good enough for the doctors who refer without asking questions.”
What’s wrong with any of this, you ask? What’s wrong with health professionals violating the AMA’s ethical injunction against placebos? What’s wrong with an entire culture of health professionals unable to see an ethical breakdown in picking your pocket and earning their living by lying and defrauding you and your insurance company?
It violates my right to make informed decisions about my own health. That's what's wrong. A right I demand as long as I’m not certified incompetent. It’s paternalistic, truthy, and wrong, and it’s time good people stop defending it.
The placebo effect is real and it’s powerful – scientists agree. Let’s find out why, and how to use it without trickery. Let’s insist we redirect our dwindling health funds away from quackery, and toward research and education on developing a healthy mindset and lifestyle.