NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Placebo Effect Can Boost Real Drugs

November 5, 2003

Medical research has long suggested that some sick people will feel better after taking a dummy pill just because they think it is real medicine. Doctors are now working to use the placebo effect to make real drugs work better.

There is interest in the concept because:

  • Physicians believe that if they can figure out how the placebo effect works and use it to improve drug efficacy, they may be able to reduce dosages for many people, leading to cost savings, fewer side effects, and improved compliance with doctor's orders.
  • Currently, there is a growing resentment among many doctors that managed care has severely curtailed the amount of time they spend with patients; if a link can be established between a positive doctor-patient relationship and drug efficacy, it would provide ammunition for doctors who want more leeway and reimbursement for spending time with patients.

However, despite these opportunities, trying to enhance a drug's efficacy by manipulating a drug's perception has the potential of crossing ethical lines. While listing all side effects of a medication can lead to a decrease in the placebo effect, failing to make them clear is unethical, say some clinicians.

Source: Amy Dockser Marcus, "Doctors Try Placebo Effect To Boost Power of Real Drugs; Manipulating the Patient," Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2003.

For text (WSJ subscription required),,SB106728891872121800-search,00.html


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