Attitudes and beliefs about placebo surgery among orthopedic shoulder surgeons in the United Kingdom

PLoS One. 2014 Mar 14;9(3):e91699. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0091699. eCollection 2014.


Objectives: To survey surgeons on their beliefs and attitudes towards the use of placebo in surgery.

Methods: British orthopedic shoulder surgeons, attending a national conference in the United Kingdom, were asked to complete a self-report online questionnaire about their beliefs and attitudes towards the use of placebo related to surgical intervention. The survey included questions about ethical issues, the mechanism of placebo effects, and any concerns regarding its use.

Results: 100 surgeons who participated in the survey believed that placebo surgery is ethically acceptable (96%), especially as a part of a clinical trial (46%). Respondents thought that a placebo effect in surgery is real i.e. has a scientific basis (92%), that placebo can be therapeutically beneficial (77%), and that it involves psychological mechanisms (96%). Over half of the respondents (58%) have used a surgical procedure with a significant placebo component at least once in their professional career. Their main concern about placebo use in surgery was that it might involve an element of deception.

Conclusions and implications: Surgeons generally agreed that a placebo component to surgical intervention might exist. They also supported placebo use in clinical trials and considered it ethical, providing it does not involve deception of patients. More studies are needed, particularly among other surgical specialties and with larger numbers of participants, to better understand the use of placebo in surgery.

Trial registration: NCT01623011.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Culture*
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Orthopedics*
  • Placebo Effect*
  • Shoulder / surgery*
  • Specialties, Surgical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom

Associated data


Grants and funding

The study was funded by the NIHR Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit. The funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis and interpretation of the data; preparation, review or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.