Objective: Investigations of the effect of placebo are often challenging to conduct and interpret. The history of placebo shows that assessment of its clinical significance has a real potential to be biased. We analyze and discuss typical types of bias in studies on placebo.
Study design and setting: A methodological analysis and discussion.
Results: The inherent nonblinded comparison between placebo and no-treatment is the best research design we have in estimating effects of placebo, both in a clinical and in an experimental setting, but the difference between placebo and no-treatment remains an approximate and fairly crude reflection of the true effect of placebo interventions. A main problem is response bias in trials with outcomes that are based on patients' reports. Other biases involve differential co-intervention and patient dropouts, publication bias, and outcome reporting bias. Furthermore, extrapolation of results to a clinical settings are challenging because of a lack of clear identification of the causal factors in many clinical trials, and the nonclinical setting and short duration of most laboratory experiments.
Conclusions: Creative experimental efforts are needed to assess rigorously the clinical significance of placebo interventions and investigate the component elements that may contribute to the therapeutic benefit.
Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.