What is it about?
Patients must agree (“consent”) to taking any medical treatments. This means that we must warn them about possible harms of the treatment. However, different ways of telling the patient about the harms can have different effects. A patient who hears, “this will feel like a bee sting” is more likely to feel pain than a patient who hears, “this will feel a bit numb”. Pain and other harms caused by expecting something bad to happen are “nocebo” (negative placebo) effects. Unlike its friendly cousin the placebo, the nocebo has been almost ignored. The result of ignoring the nocebo effect is that doctors and researchers often explain treatment risks in a way that scares patients, and actually causes harm. In this paper, Dr. Howick from the University of Oxford explains what the nocebo effect is, how to measure it properly, and how to tell patients about treatment risks in a way that is truthful and not overly scary. The paper has important implications for how consent is taken.
Photo by Siora Photography on Unsplash
Why is it important?
Because medical treatments are the bedrock of medical practice. The recent evidence about the effects of negative words ('nocebo effects') shows that we are reducing the benefits of our medical treatments with the way we communicate. This needs to change.
Read the Original
This page is a summary of: Unethical informed consent caused by overlooking poorly measured nocebo effects, Journal of Medical Ethics, February 2020, BMJ,
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