What can we learn from the placebo effect?

Psychology In Action

An article in The Economist this week – “Think yourself better” – examined the effectiveness of alternative medical treatments such as acupuncture, crystal healing, Reiki channelling, and herbal remedies.  Alternative medicine a booming business.  Survey results released by the US National Institutes of Health found that in 2002 62.1% of adults in the country had used some form of alternative treatment in the past 12 months and 75% across lifespan.  Alternative treatments are typically not proven effective using scientific methods, and according to Dr. Edzard Ernst, one of the few to run clinical trials on these treatments, around 95% of these treatments are statistically indistinguishable from placebo treatments.

If these treatments are no more effective than a placebo and the high usage rates are increasing, are we looking at a serious public health problem?  Maybe.  There are certainly cases of alternative treatments that harm the patient, either directly, or more…

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