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Medicine Science

Most UK GPs Have Prescribed Placebos 240

Posted by samzenpus
from the balance-the-humors dept.
Techmeology writes "In a survey of UK GPs, 97% said they'd recommended placebo treatments to their patients, with some doctors telling patients that the treatment had helped others without telling them that it was a placebo. While some doctors admitted to using a sugar pill or saline injection, some of the placebos offered had side effects such as antibiotic treatments used as placebos for viral infections."
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Most UK GPs Have Prescribed Placebos

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  • by thegarbz (1787294) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:00AM (#43243877)

    antibiotic treatments used as placebos for vial infections

    I'm sorry but a medical professional should flat out know better.

    • by Inoen (590519) on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:08AM (#43243905)
      A friend of mine is currently in the hospital with a simple infection, that would normally be easily treated with antibiotics. But this one has been resistant to everything they've tried. Worst case, they will have to take off his leg.

      I agree; using antibiotics where they aren't needed is despicable.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by scamper_22 (1073470)

      Of course they know better.

      It's that they choose to do it so it makes it easier to deal with patients.

      The irony of professional regulation is that we restrict medical professionals, grant them monopolies, impose excess educational requirements... and then it turns out most of them don't practice to that level.

      Sure your family doctor might theoretically be better than say a nurse practitioner, but most barely spend any time with you to actually be better (at least in Canada).

      Sure theoretically, they are guar

    • by xQx (5744)
      Absolutely! This is bloody disgraceful!

      There are side effects that can be caused by unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics. Furthermore, they're a bloody expensive form of placebo.

      Doctors that prescribe placebos should be prescribing actual placebos - pills or injections that are inert (and cheap to by wholesale). This to do otherwise is in violation of the Hippocratic oath.

      There's nothing wrong with a doctor prescribing inert placebos though. A doctor is employed to use science to help sick people and there
      • by digitig (1056110)
        I'm not sure a UK doctor can prescribe medically inert placebos, at least not on the National Health Service. As I understand it, what they can prescribe is decided by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), and their list is supposed to be evidence based. Although I suppose that doesn't stop the doctor saying something like, "Look, I could prescribe something, but, here's the thing, the best thing for you is something I'm not allowed to prescribe. You know what a stranglehold the
    • by digitig (1056110)
      Medical professionals do know better. They also know that some patients can cause a lot of trouble if they don't get what they want, and like pretty much everybody else they sometimes take the broad path that leadeth to destruction.
      • by hackula (2596247)
        Yeah, doctors know loads more once they've gone and checked WebMD. I have seen a pathetic number of docs do this over the past few years. The general doc workflow seems to be something like this:

        1) ask you what is wrong
        2) search for the symptoms on WebMD for 5 minutes
        3) come back and tell you what WebMD said (make it sound like it was from memory of course)
        4) prescribe the most expensive drug listed as a possible treatment on WebMD
        5) Profit!
    • by MiniMike (234881)

      A friend of mine who was trained in homeopathic medicine* once tried to tell my wife to take a pill for a problem (don't remember what). She asked what it was, because she has a few allergies. He said don't worry, it's a placebo, and still tried to convince her to take it.

      Hopefully these GP's had more effective training than my friend.

      * two of the preceding words should have "quotes" around them...

    • by Ash Vince (602485) *

      antibiotic treatments used as placebos for vial infections

      I'm sorry but a medical professional should flat out know better.

      Why?

      Much of the time people are prescribed antibiotics they do not really need them anyway as their own immune system will do the job in the end anyway.

      Plenty of people go to the doctor demanding antibiotics just because they have a cold and thinking they will help. If the doctor gave all of these retards antibiotics the few effective ones we have remaining would be depleted in no time, especially as the patient would stop taking them as soon as they felt better instead of finishing the course they were pre

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        In this case why shouldn't the doctor just send them home with something that is far cheaper than his time and makes them feel better

        If that's what was happening, then you'd have a point. But that's not. What's happening is that the doctor is sending them home with something whose primary effect will probably be contribution to development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, at least as far as the public is concerned. But to the person, the primary effect is damage to their bacterial colony, which has negative repercussions for their health! It notably, negatively, and immediately affects the immune system and the digestive system.

        A doctor

    • by Hatta (162192)

      Absolutely. Any physician who prescribes an antibiotic for a viral infection should lose his license immediately. And he should probably end up in jail. We are running out of antibiotics, and when we do, it's back to medieval life expectancy. Antibiotic abuse has the potential to kill millions of people.

      IMO, every recreational drug should be legally available over the counter. But every antibiotic should be extremely closely monitored. Make people show up to a clinic for their antibiotics, the way meth

  • Not a Placebo (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Rinnon (1474161)
    By definition, antibiotics are NOT placebos. A placebo must have no pharmacological effect to be designated as such; which clearly rules out antibiotics. Full disclosure: I'm not a doctor. Not that one needs to be to understand what a bloody placebo is supposed to be.
    • Re:Not a Placebo (Score:5, Informative)

      by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 22, 2013 @02:48AM (#43244073)

      The point here is that antibiotics won't do anything for a viral illness - but patients will demand antibiotics for anything and everything until they are blue in the face, many don't accept that the "wonder drug" class of antibiotics won't actually do anything for them.

      My wife is a GP, and we literally just had this conversation :) GPs in the UK get 8 minutes with each patient, they can't afford to spend it arguing with the patient, so they issue antibiotics which have already lost their effectiveness due to prior overuse - we aren't talking about threatening working antibiotics.

      • by Aggrajag (716041)
        Taking a rapid CRP test from a patient should give your wife and other GP's the argument against/for antibiotics. CRP 10 = no antibiotics.
      • by Hatta (162192)

        GPs in the UK get 8 minutes with each patient, they can't afford to spend it arguing with the patient

        It takes less than a second to say "no". If I came in to your wife's office and demanded oxycodone, what would she do? Why shouldn't she do the same thing when a patient demands antibiotics?

    • It's a placebo in the context of the problem space, as it has no effect on it.
    • Whether it's a placebo or not rather depends on what you're trying to treat. Sugar pills aren't a placebo if you're hypoglycemic.

      disclosure: I'm not a doctor.

      No shit.

    • by lxs (131946)

      A placebo must have no pharmacological effect to be designated as such

      I guess you've never heard of an active placebo [wikipedia.org]? Those have a definite pharmacological effect, just not the main effect of the drug being mimicked.

    • by TheLink (130905)

      What do you mean by no pharmacological effect though?

      See: "Neurobiological Mechanisms of the Placebo Effect"
      http://www.jneurosci.org/content/25/45/10390.full [jneurosci.org]

      In an experimental model of pain (Amanzio and Benedetti, 1999), the placebo response could be blocked by naloxone if it was induced by strong expectation cues, whereas if the expectation cues were reduced, it was insensitive to naloxone. In the same study, if the placebo response was obtained after exposure to opioid drugs, it was naloxone reversible, whereas if it was obtained after exposure to non-opioid drugs, it was naloxone insensitive.

  • by rossdee (243626)

    "such as antibiotic treatments used as placebos for vial infections.""

    With proper sterilization techniques, you wouldn't get infections from vials in the first place.
    (or use new vials so there's no risk of contamination - which they do in US hospitals since they charge so much they have new everything.
    I guess that might not be an option on the NHS

    • by bugnuts (94678)

      Heh. Your response made sense, except that it was probably a typo of "viral infection".

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      ever tried to get rid of a vial? only way is to crush it and then it's no longer a viable for being a vial.

      boiling doesn't work. radiating doesn't work. antibiotics don't work. hell, once I tried sulfuric acid and it had no effect!

    • "such as antibiotic treatments used as placebos for vial infections.""

      With proper sterilization techniques, you wouldn't get infections from vials in the first place. (or use new vials so there's no risk of contamination - which they do in US hospitals since they charge so much they have new everything. I guess that might not be an option on the NHS

      I think you are misinterpreting the summary. I suspect the author was editorializing a bit and meant to talk about "vile infections." God knows they can knock you around, even with a good placebo.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      "such as antibiotic treatments used as placebos for vial infections.""

      With proper sterilization techniques, you wouldn't get infections from vials in the first place.

      You entirely missed the point: vials are the infecting bit, not the vector/carrier. As in: "crawling with or being overwhelmed by vials".

      And, yes, antibiotics are useless for this case, as vials are usually made of glass and glass is not affected by antibiotics. A better treatment is the copious application of vigorous hammer strokes over all the vial infected parts of the patient.

    • With proper sterilization techniques

      Woah, hey, sounding dangerously Daily Mail there...

      you wouldn't get infections from vials in the first place.

      Oh. That kind of sterilization. Okay.

    • Funnily enough I recall a case of "vial infection", where a patient was administered a dose from a vial that had had minute fractures in it, causing its contents to be compromised, and the resulting injection severely disabled the patient (IIRC it was in the back bone, and he was left paralysed).

      His lawsuit was dismissed, as I recall, because the administration could not have know about those minute fractures, and had otherwise taken all reasonable care to maintain those vials in proper condition.

      Just a int

  • Placebo Effect (Score:2, Insightful)

    In Dr Irving Kirsch's book "The Emperor's New Drugs Exposed" he described how they are as effective as a class of anti-depressants, and of course they have fewer side effects! http://healthimpactnews.com/2012/fact-antidepressant-drugs-no-better-than-placebos/ [healthimpactnews.com] Ben Goldacre in "Big Pharma" has written similar stories. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irving-kirsch-phd/antidepressants-the-emper_b_442205.html [huffingtonpost.com]
  • by quenda (644621) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:06AM (#43244131)

    The British National Health service runs entire hospitals dedicated to placebo treatment. [bbc.co.uk]

  • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Friday March 22, 2013 @03:52AM (#43244279)

    A family friend, an old and wise ear, nose and throat doctor, mentioned at a dinner party, that about 25% of his patients had an emotional problem, not a physical one. He lamented that younger doctors did not take time to ask patients questions about how their life, family and job status were going. The younger doctors would just try to prescribe pills too quickly, and refer the patient to a specialist, like himself. A neurologist and another doctor at the table agreed.

    Of course, now many doctors have time constraints for patient visits imposed by insurance companies. So prescribing a placebo is the easier choice than really talking to the patients, and dealing with more paperwork, for an extended consultation.

    That was in the US; I don't know how that is in the UK.

    • by cdrudge (68377)

      Of course, now many doctors have time constraints for patient visits imposed by insurance companies.

      My guess is none. The insurance company may only pay $X for a particular diagnosis, but they aren't limiting how much the doctor could chose to be with the patient. The doctor could chose to stay longer, but there's this need to be profitable in order to stay in business that necessitates moving from patient to patient in a timely manner.

      Seriously though, why should the doctor ask about life, family, job st

  • The major issue is that people as a rule are lazy so expect a simple quick fix to all their problems in life.
    Illness, pop a pill
    Fat, gastric band
    etc, etc

    As a previous poster mentioned most problems that a GP comes across will be fought and fixed by your body with a little assistance of paracetamol or ibuprofen to keep down temps.

    We have become too reliant on an easy fix and need to return to eating properly, exercising and not being too clean.....

    Build up your natural ability to fight illness, only go to a

    • by ledow (319597)

      It's not just stuff for GP's, either.

      How many people carry "headache tablets"(i.e. paracetamol / aspirin) around with them? How many rely on things like Lemsip and other cold remedies?

      Fact is, they make almost zero difference to how you feel or how long you'll have the headache/cold. (I make a specific exception for migraine, but then you should be having your proper migraine tablets and not headache tablets).

      The amount of people who carry this stuff around with them all day, every day is scary. That's b

  • Does anybody else research drugs you are given, or do people just swallow whatever the doctor gives them?

  • Glad to see they use things that work!

  • I KNEW those pills looked an awful lot like Flintstones chewable vitamins!

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