General Health News

| January 6, 2008

Forty-five percent of surveyed physicians admit to prescribing placebos.

The UPI (1/4) reports that "U.S. doctors may prescribe placebos more often than patients are aware," according to a survey by Rachel Sherman, a medical student at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine, and Dr. John Hickner, a professor of family medicine.  The researchers surveyed "466 internists at the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, and University of Illinois-Chicago," and 231 physicians responded.

Among the respondents, 45 percent admitted "giving a patient a placebo at least once during their years of practice," according to HealthDay (1/4, Vann).  Thirty-four percent of those who had prescribed placebos "told their patient the placebo was ‘a substance that may help and will not hurt.’"  Meanwhile, "19 percent told their patient ‘it is medication,’ and one in 10 (nine percent) said ‘it is medicine with no specific effect.’"  Only four percent of these physicians "told their patient they were prescribing a placebo."

Some key findings include the fact that 33 percent of respondents said that they had prescribed "antibiotics for viral or other nonbacterial diagnoses," while "20 percent had prescribed vitamins, seven percent subtherapeutic doses of medication, and five percent herbal supplements," MedPage Today (1/4, Smith) adds.  Just "two percent had actually given prepared placebo tablets, and only one percent had prescribed sugar or artificial sweetener pills."  Furthermore, about "95 percent of respondents believed that placebos can have therapeutic effects, although 21 percent said it was rare, 58 percent said it happened sometimes, and 16 percent thought it occurred often."  Moreover, "68 percent agreed, and 27 percent strongly agreed that ‘the placebo effect is real,’" while "40 percent said placebos could benefit patients physiologically for certain health problems," and "12 percent said that placebo use in routine medical care should be categorically prohibited."

Focusing on the ethical aspects of administering placebos, WebMD (1/4, Zwillich) quotes John Kusek, Ph.D., a senior scientific advisor at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases "who has studied the placebo effect and the use of placebos in clinical trials" as saying, "I think it’s unethical."  While a placebo treatment may work, he added, "it still represents a ‘slippery’ ethical ground because patients are not told they’re getting a placebo instead of a ‘real’ drug."

UnitedHealthcare, Athenahealth to provide instant, online claims data to physicians.

In the Wall Street Journal‘s (1/3) Health Blog, Jacob Goldstein wrote that UnitedHealthcare announced on Thursday that physicians "who use online software from the practice management company Athenahealth, can get instant, online results when they file claims."  In this way, practices can "figure out how much the insurance company’s going to pay, and how much the patient owes, before the patient leaves the office."  According to Ken Burdick, CEO of UnitedHealthcare, "That starts to make the healthcare experience simpler, and more akin to what most of us would experience with our other retail transactions."  Still, he pointed out, "athenahealth accounts for only 1.5 million of UnitedHealthcare’s 200 million claims a year."


Healthcare IT News (1/3, Monegain) reported that "[c]onnecting real-time adjudication into Athenahealth’s national physician platform expands UnitedHealthcare’s real-time capability to the critical practice management workflow and desktop space, which is an important advancement since most physician offices use third-party solutions, or have to dual-submit claims for traditional real-time adjudication platforms, according to Athenahealth."  This venture shows UnitedHealthcare’s "commitment to simplifying physicians’ and consumers’ healthcare finances," said Jonathan Bush, chairman and CEO of Athenahealth.

Category: General Healthcare News

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