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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 16-22

“primary care physicians” perspective on placebos in clinical practice: Attitudes, beliefs, and prescribing habits

Department of Family and Community Medicine, College of Medicine, King Khalid University Hospital, King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Correspondence Address:
Syed Irfan Karim
Department of Family and Community Medicine, College of Medicine, King Saud University Medical City, King Saud University, P O Box 2925, Riyadh 11461
Saudi Arabia
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/NJGP.NJGP_10_20

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Background: Global patterns in the clinical use of placebos differ due to physicians' conceptual differences, culture, region, and setting. This study aimed to evaluate the attitudes, beliefs, and prescribing habits of primary care physicians toward the use of placebos. Methods: This was a cross-sectional study. An anonymous web-based survey questionnaire was used to collect the information of primary care physicians (2017–2018). Descriptive statistics and frequency distributions were calculated using the Chi-square and Fisher's exact tests. Results: The mean age of the participants was 41.3 ± 12 years. Male physicians (67%) outnumbered their female counterparts. There were 87/108 (80.5%) physicians who responded. Minority of the physicians (21%, n = 18) had used a placebo in clinical practice, and only 25% indicated placebo prescription to be ethically acceptable. The most common reasons for placebo use were to satisfy a complaining patient (27.6%), calm the patient (23%), and as a supplemental treatment to other medicines (20.7%). A significant association was found between the age (P = 0.03) and years of experience (P = 0.01) with the placebo prescribing practice. Majority (43.8 %) of non-Saudis compared to 15.5% of Saudi respondents reported using placebos (P = 0.01, odds ratio = 6.35). Majority (75%) of the respondents believed that placebos can be used in clinical practice without giving prior information to the patient. Conclusion: Minority of the physicians used placebos in clinical practice. Clinical experience and cross border variation were seen among physicians in placebo prescribing practices. Physicians used placebos primarily for psychological benefit.

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