Background: The dimensions of orally administered pharmacological placebos in routine clinical practice and the attitude of the clinical staff towards placebos are widely unknown. The aim of this report was to examine the frequency, indications and the intentions of placebo use at the Medical University of Hannover (MHH).
Methods: This study was performed as an anonymous cross-sectional written survey at the MHH. Quantitative data on placebo requests registered by the dispensary were obtained in advance.
Results: A total of 74% of respondents reported using placebos in clinical practice, including 53% of physicians and 88% of the nursing staff. Pain (76%) and insomnia (59%) were the most frequently reported reasons for administering placebos. Placebos were considered to be highly effective by 28.5% of physicians and 63.8% of the nursing staff.
Conclusion: The effective use of pharmacological placebos appears to be an established component of the therapeutic options of a tertiary referral center. The placebo effect seems to contain remarkable potential. While the use of pharmacological placebos is ethically problematic within the clinical context, the improvement of caregiver-patient interactions and the utilization of positive suggestion could serve as an ideal adjunct to active therapy regimes.