The attitudes of patients and physicians towards placebo treatment--a comparative study

Soc Sci Med. 1993 Mar;36(6):767-74. doi: 10.1016/0277-9536(93)90037-5.


Placebo treatment in clinical practice can be given either in order to comply with the wishes of the patient, or with the purpose of doing good and not causing harm. In the former instance, the procedure may be in accordance with the interests of the patient, yet be in conflict with the interests of the medical profession. In the latter instance, the procedure presupposes that in most cases the patient has not been informed of the nature of the treatment; this type of procedure may jeopardize a trusting patient-doctor relationship. Therefore, it is of interest to investigate both the extent to which patients and physicians feel they can accept placebo treatment and a paternalistic attitude, and in which particular situations. In order to shed some light on this matter, we compiled a questionnaire built around three case histories which problematize placebo treatment and paternalistic acts. The questionnaire was distributed to 100 patients and 100 physicians. 83 patients and 94 physicians responded. The results show that patients and physicians do not automatically follow specific group interests. Physicians are more inclined to respect the patient's option to refuse medical treatment than the patients are inclined to respect a physician's professional autonomy. Patients appear more to be paternalistic in their judgements than physicians, but one cannot rule out the possibility that the answers of the physicians reflect the fact that placebo treatment represent a socially undesirable behaviour. We conclude that theoretical and normative analyses of the perspective of the actors ought to be supplemented by empirical research.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Attitude*
  • Complementary Therapies
  • Disclosure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Paternalism*
  • Patient Advocacy
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Placebos / therapeutic use*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research
  • Sweden
  • Trust


  • Placebos