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How can placebo effects best be applied in clinical practice? A narrative review

Authors Bystad M, Bystad C, Wynn R

Received 10 October 2014

Accepted for publication 16 December 2014

Published 29 January 2015 Volume 2015:8 Pages 41—45

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S75670

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 4

Editor who approved publication: Professor Igor Elman


Martin Bystad,1,2 Camilla Bystad,3 Rolf Wynn1,3

1Division of Addictions and Specialized Psychiatric Services, University Hospital of North Norway, 2Institute of Psychology, 3Institute of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health Sciences, Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway

Abstract: Placebo effects are documented in a number of clinical and experimental studies. It is possible to benefit from placebo effects in clinical practice by using them as effects additive to those of documented and effective treatments. The purpose of this paper is to discuss how doctors and other health workers may benefit from placebo effects within an ethical framework. A narrative review of the literature relating to placebo effects in clinical practice was performed. We searched PubMed and selected textbooks on placebo effects for articles and book chapters relating to placebo effects in clinical practice. By drawing on placebo effects, doctors may access patients’ self-healing potentials. In practice, doctors may best benefit from placebo effects by influencing the patient’s expectations through communication. An important principle is to give the patient information stating that a particular treatment is effective, as long as this is based on realistic optimism. A patient-centered style involving elements such as developing trust and respect, exploring the patient’s values, speaking positively about treatments, and providing reassurance and encouragement might aid in activating placebo effects. The total effect of a documented treatment will partly depend on how well the placebo effects have been activated. Thus, placebo effects can be understood as a form of supplemental treatment.

Keywords: placebo effects, doctor-patient communication, expectations, biopsychosocial model

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