When Your Doctor Fakes You Out

Empowered patients will be interested in a report today on the study results of a survey of Chicago area internists (family doctors). It seems that 45% of them see nothing wrong in prescribing placebos — fake sugar pills — for their patients.

The report actually tiptoes around what the results really mean. The spinmeisters had their say with phrases like, ” this study suggests that placebos themselves are viewed as therapeutic tools in medical practice” and “a growing number of physicians believe in mind-body connection.”

Yes — I do understand that sometimes the mind triumphs over matter — and I do understand the mind-body connection theories. I’m a believer.

I don’t bring this up because I think patients shouldn’t be given what works — and if a sugar pill will help the pain or symptoms go away — then OK. But that is NOT why doctors are giving their patients sugar pills.

Instead I see these results as proof that doctors don’t care to take the time to figure out what is really wrong with a patient and that, too often, a placebo is simply the answer to “there, there, little lady — it’s all in your head.” If you could read my email, you’d believe the same thing.

The fact that 45% of doctors would be willing to sacrifice their patients’ potential health by ignoring real symptoms or not treating them accurately is just one more reason why trust continues to erode between patients and their doctors.

And if they think the sugar pills can really help a patient? Then they should tell them that’s what it is. According to this report, that is most often obscured.

Check your medicine cabinet. If you find something labled Obecalp (which is placebo backwards) or Cepocab — which is a pill made of lactose, a natural sugar, and can be prescribed and filled at pharmacies everywhere — then your doctor has prescribed a placebo for you.

Ethical? Unethical? What do you call it when someone pulls the wool over your eyes?

If you’d like to read more, you can do so here.

Wise patients know that asking plenty of questions is the best approach to making sure they aren’t victims of a placebo prescription. When your doctor writes a prescription, there are definite steps that can be taken to verify that the prescription is bonafide, that it’s the right drug for the right problem, and what to expect when you take it.

Wise patients work to make sure they aren’t being fooled.

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6 Responses to “When Your Doctor Fakes You Out”


  1. 1 Kathi LeBlanc January 4, 2008 at 9:52 pm

    I am horrified to read that 45% of doctor’s do not care about their patients well being. I know that doctor’s are busy people, hence the two – three hour wait past the appointment time, but patients are also busy people who expect a level of respect when consulting a professional. I am a CPA and can’t imagine what would happen to my client base if I just used the quickest form available for their tax return. If I ever see a placebo in my medicine cabinet, then I will also have a new doctor.

  2. 2 doc geoff January 6, 2008 at 10:28 am

    I don’t prescribe placebos and agree with most of your points. But the idea that drs could TELL patients they’re giving a sugar pill and still expect it to work…….get real! You’re either in or out on this one, make your mind up.

  3. 3 Ricardo January 6, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    A few comments. All this whining about empowerment…you already have it. Don’t like doctors? Don’t go. Don’t like being ripped off by big pharma? Stop getting your poisons at the pharmacy. There is plenty of medical advice for free on the internet – and you can treat yourself with the marvelous pure and natural proven health remedies at your local GNC. If you feel you need some professional face to face…see a chiropracter. But beware! Some have turned their back on the gospel of D.D.Palmer and are just treating musculoskeletal conditions. Be sure to see one that still mainaints his skills for cures of a broad variety of conditions from prostate cancer to diabetes with a little wiggle on that lumbar articulation. And above all….pray. There you go….problem solved.

  4. 4 Mike January 6, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    Maybe they prescribe a placebo because patients expect to be GIVEN something everytime they enter the doctor’s office. Afterall, the public is bombarded by adds for a pill to treat this and that. I believe doctor’s do care aboout your health and well being. What I also believe is they are pressed for time and don’t have the time to spend explaining to you that the rumbling in your stomach is the 4-days per week supersized burger and fries you ate for lunch.

  5. 5 Dr. W January 6, 2008 at 8:18 pm

    You cannot tell patients that they are getting a placebo pill and expect any result. The “placebo effect” is when patients think they are getting a real pill, but aren’t. There have been thousands of studies that show improvement in symptoms when patients are given a placebo pill (usually as part of a drug trial comparing the “real” medication with the placebo. For example, around 30% of men in the Viagra trials who got the sugar pill had great improvement in their symptoms and thought they were getting the real thing. ADditionally, it’s erroneous to assume that physician are actually prescribing placebos for patients on a regular basis. This survey said many doctors thought it was ok, but not that they were prescribing them. As far as I know, you can’t even write a script for them, as they aren’t carried in pharmacies. The law insists that patients be given information about their medication from the pharmacy, so just look at it! It is required to be truthful. In the end, some doctors would give placebos as a means of diagnosis, i.e. is the problem psychological or truly physical. If the patient improves on a placebo, then chances are there is a least a psychological component to their symptoms, whereas they would not improve on the placebo if their symptoms were real. I wish I could prescribe placebos for patients to help me NOT ignore real physical symptoms that deserve more investigation. So please inform yourself about what this really means before you write a blog condemning something that very rarely happens, and then only in the best interests of the patient.

  6. 6 J.J. January 6, 2008 at 11:17 pm

    Ranting about a subject that you obviously have no expertise, does a disservice to anyone who reads your blog and believes what you say. Health care is serious. Do a little study of the medical literature before you go off half-cocked.


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