Placebo Effects in Guidelines, Practice, and Patient Choice

Beginning a Conversation about an Under-recognized Therapeutic Tool

Speakers and attendees participate in The Science of Placebo conference at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard Medical School.

In a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded conference on the therapeutic potential of placebo, participants increased their awareness of both the placebo effect and the importance of exploring its potential, and drafted recommendations for closing the gap in placebo-related care.

The Issue

Clinical trials have historically used placebo as a control. Despite increasing research showing that placebo has many therapeutic effects, providers rarely consider those effects in clinical management or treatment, and overlook its treatment potential. To encourage discussion about the therapeutic potential of placebo, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded a five-part conference series facilitated by the Program in Placebo Studies at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Conference participants discussed research evidencing the placebo effect and associated positive patient reports on their conditions. Participants also discussed areas of uncertainty about the placebo effect: terminology, its underlying causes, potential roles for its use, ethical considerations, framing effects, its relationship to shared decision-making, and consideration in clinical research and practice guidelines.

Next Steps

Conference participants increased their awareness of both the placebo effect and the importance of learning more about it in their area of specialty, and created a set of preliminary recommendations for closing the gap in placebo-related care.

About the Study

The second part in the conference series took place in Boston during December 2013, and aimed to advance the discussion about the lack of placebo use in clinical care. Participants included experts from various medical fields who had not previously studied the placebo effect and a patient who advocates for patients with chronic illnesses.