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Here, Take This Placebo

Apr 9, 2013, 2:48 PM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

A handful of pills

A recent report found "most family doctors" in the United Kingdom have given a patient a placebo.

And why not?, asks Phillipa Perry in The Guardian — after all, "a placebo is an effective, proven intervention that stimulates our bodies' own capacity to heal itself."

The answer to Perry’s question, some might argue, is deception — doctors shouldn’t lie to their patients. But what if deception wasn’t necessary for a placebo to work? What if you could tell someone you were giving them a placebo, and it could still improve their symptoms?

This idea is at the heart of Pioneer grantee Ted Kaptchuk's research at Harvard's Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter (PiPS), the first multidisciplinary institute dedicated to studying placebos. 

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The Potential to Solve Perplexing Health Problems

Nov 8, 2011, 3:49 AM, Posted by Lori Melichar

In October, RWJF’s Pioneer portfolio laid down a challenge. Recognizing that good health behaviors often require behavior change, but that making those changes is usually easier said than done, we asked the pioneering world of behavioral economics to come up with solutions—innovative ideas to help people make the “right” decisions for their health.

The results were unbelievable. We’re excited to announce that Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer portfolio received more than 330 responses—a plethora of ideas drawing on behavioral economics to address tough health problems—in reply to our recent call for proposals.

We received applications from a variety of institutions, including universities, business schools, schools of public health, medical schools, clinics, non-profits, and research organizations. Our hope was to discover new interventions and insights that have potential to transform health and health care. In particular, we stated an interest in experiments that test innovative solutions to the challenges of obesity and consumer engagement. More than 50 percent of the applications we received focus on problems involving obesity. Nearly one-third involve consumer engagement. We are eager to dig into these as well as the investigator-initiated topics and invite those with the most pioneering ideas to submit a full proposal later this month.

RWJF’s Pioneer portfolio supports unconventional approaches to difficult problems—visionary solutions that have the potential to change the way we think about health and health care. We are the only RWJF team that accepts unsolicited proposals; however, when we target an area that we think deserves more attention, we are often humbled and excited by the caliber of the results.  I extend my warmest thanks to those scientists, economists, physicians and big thinkers who submitted your pioneering ideas as an answer to this call and to all those in our network who helped spread the word.

Early Insights from Project HealthDesign

Oct 21, 2011, 10:31 AM


As more patients begin using technology to manage their health, the Pioneer Portfolio's National program Project HealthDesign is helping meet the demand by designing tools that can be used by real people to improve their health and engagement with their health care providers. In the true pioneering spirit, Project HealthDesign research teams are working with real patients to create new technologies that help people living with chronic illnesses and improve their health and coordination of care. Patients are tracking observations of daily living (ODLs) about their sleep patterns, pain levels and moods. They use the resulting ODL data to better communicate with health care providers as they look to see what the trends in their ODLs might suggest, like whether they need to take a certain action to improve their health or whether past actions have made a difference. The incredible experiences these teams are having with real patients and clinicians have uncovered some preliminary lessons.

The teams have learned that new clinical workflows are needed in order to incorporate ODLs into clinical practice. Nurses, health coaches and other caregivers have emerged as the key points of contact for ODL data incorporation. And because each patient is different, personal health applications need to be customizable.

A key outcome of the teams’ work will be to determine how ODLs can be integrated into clinical care and individuals’ daily health decision-making processes. To learn more insights and lessons from Project HealthDesign, view the Early Findings and Challenges report for a quick overview or read the draft Technical Architectures and Implementations report for more detailed findings.