Pondering placebos

The lede:

Doctors know there’s little clinical value in prescribing medications that won’t work. But that doesn’t keep patients from asking for them.

Mitchell Kahn, MD, knows this struggle. The Bellingham, Wash., internist prefers to talk patients through their problems and offer therapeutic reassurance. But the reality is that days are long, time is short and sometimes, he said, patient demands just wear you down.

Dr. Kahn is not alone. Patients who demand antibiotics for the common cold or ask their doctors to recommend vitamins are found frequently in physician exam rooms. They present doctors with an ethical dilemma: When all else fails, is it OK to harness the power of the placebo effect, and what should patients be told?

According to a British Medical Journal study, more than half of American physicians regularly recommend treatments aimed primarily at achieving a placebo effect.

The whole shebang.