We just discussed the placebo and nocebo effects in class last week, just about the time that this article appeared on Wired: Forget the Placebo Effect, It’s the ‘Caring Effect’ That Matters. The author, Nathanael Johnson, writes briefly about a study in which the same placebo was administered to test groups in either an empathetic or brusque manner, and only the first case had noticeable results. Johnson turns this into a case for incorporating caring into the medical process as a way to reduce overtreatment and keep patients from needing to seek alternative treatment to cure their illness, even if “science” cured their disease.
Clearly Johnson isn’t writing from an anthropological perspective and I have a couple of immediate reactions. I’m certainly in favor of compassionate care. What I would hate to see is a schedule of mandated ‘caring’ that results in a “you got everything on the checklist so you must be better” approach.