Use of placebos and nonspecific and complementary treatments by German physicians--rationale and development of a questionnaire for a nationwide survey

Forsch Komplementmed. 2013;20(5):361-7. doi: 10.1159/000356230. Epub 2013 Oct 21.


Background: We are performing a nationwide survey in a random sample of German general practitioners (GPs), orthopedists, and internists on the use of placebos and nonspecific as well as complementary treatments and their association with basic professional attitudes. In this article we explain the theoretical considerations behind the study approach and the development of the questionnaire.

Methods: Based on a systematic review of published surveys, own surveys on the topic, and on theoretical considerations we developed a preliminary version of a 4-page questionnaire that was tested for feasibility in a convenience sample of 80 participants of a general medical education event. We also performed cognitive interviews with 8 physicians to investigate whether the questions were understood adequately.

Results: The questions on typical placebos and complementary treatments were well understood and easy to answer for participants. Discussions about the phrasing of questions on nonspecific treatments during interview reflected the vagueness of this concept; but this did not seem to create major problems when answering the related questions. The original questions regarding basic professional attitudes partly were not understood in the manner intended. The relevant questions were modified but the interviews suggest that these issues are difficult to grasp in a quantitative survey.

Conclusion: Our testing procedures suggest that our questionnaire is well-suited to investigate our questions with some limitations regarding the issue of basic professional attitudes.

MeSH terms

  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data*
  • Germany
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Physicians / statistics & numerical data*
  • Placebos*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*


  • Placebos