Why Placebo?

July 25, 2015
No Comments


There is a good chance that you know that placebo is a term used for a harmless, inactive pill, medicine or procedure. Many clinical research studies have a chance of placebo which means that participants may receive an active investigational medication or an inactive placebo. But many people wonder why placebo is necessary for clinical research studies.

In studies that are placebo controlled study volunteers are randomly assigned to sub-groups of either active treatment or placebo. Active treatment groups will receive active investigational treatment whereas the placebo group will receive inactive placebo treatment. In order to determine if an investigational treatment is effective, patient improvement needs to be a comparative analysis in an environment where all things are equal except the treatment itself.

But why is placebo necessary?

Couldn’t researchers just look at the improvement or lack of improvement in a patient to determine if a treatment works or not? The reality is that just looking at patient improvement in a single, active treatment group may not tell the whole story.

The reason for placebo control is to compare the effects of a treatment against the perceived effects that a patient may experience from simply thinking that they are on treatment. Believe it or not, many patients will report improvement in their medical condition, even when only taking a placebo sugar pill! This is referred to as the placebo effect.

Researchers know that a patient’s own belief that they are receiving a treatment can often lead to a perceived improvement in their reported condition. For this reason, the improvement of an active treatment group needs to be compared to the improvement reported in a placebo group in order for researchers to know that an investigational medication has a real therapeutic benefit beyond that of a placebo effect.

Volunteers of placebo-controlled studies are always made aware of the chance that they may receive a placebo instead of the investigative treatment. Study volunteers should carefully weigh out their need for treatment and if they are willing to participate in the study knowing that they may only receive a placebo. Most studies also offer additional benefits beyond that of potential treatment such as time with a board-certified physician, diagnostic testing, education about their condition, compensation, and the opportunity to help advance medical research.

To find out about clinical research study opportunities in the Tamarac area, visit phoenixclinical.com or call Phoenix Clinical Research at 754-205-5000.