Intended for healthcare professionals


The power of placebo

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 21 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:1569
  1. E Ernst,
  2. A Herxheimer
  1. Professor Department of Complementary Medicine, Postgraduate Medical School, University of Exeter, Exeter EX2 4NT
  2. Emeritus fellow, UK Cochrane Centre, 9 Park Crescent, London N3 2NL

    Let's use it to help as much as possible

    Links are revealed this week between the colour of a pill, its name, and its pharmacological action (pp 1624, 1627).1 2 This news will come as no surprise to many. Pink pills and tonics were the mainstay of many physicians—perhaps their main resource—before the era of antibiotics. But what are the active ingredients of the placebo effect and how can we make the best use of it?

    Many non-specific concomitants of treatments help to determine the direction and size of the placebo effect. These can be placed on a continuum ranging from the tangible to the intangible.3 The form of medications, touch, words, gestures, and the ambience of the consultation can all play a part in conveying a doctor's confidence in a treatment, empathy with the patient, and professional status.4 5 6 Non-specific aspects of …

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