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Charlotte Blease
Philosopher of Medicine, Program in Placebo Studies, Harvard Medical School, United States of America.

Open Label Placebos: Reflections on a Research Program.

National surveys of primary care physicians demonstrate that placebo use is prevalent. A new program of research in placebo studies indicates that it may be possible to harness placebo effects in clinical practice via ethical, non-deceptively prescribed ‘open label placebos’ (‘OLPs’). To date, there have been 14 small scale clinical and experimental studies into OLPs. Results suggest therapeutic potential of these treatments for a range of conditions and symptoms. In this talk I identify conceptual and empirical issues that, if not given due consideration, risk undermining research methodologies in OLP trials. Counterintuitively, owing to the nuances posed by placebo terminology, and the difficulties of designing placebos controls in OLP studies, experimentalists must reflect deeply when formulating adequate ‘placebo’ comparison groups. Further research is needed to disentangle which specific components of OLPs are effective. There may yet be potential to use OLPs in medical practice but clinical translation depends on rigorously controlled research.



Dr. Charlotte Blease is a philosopher of medicine currently based at the Program in Placebo Studies, Harvard Medical School where she is a Fulbright Scholar and Irish Research Council/Marie Curie Awardee. Dr. Blease has published extensively on ethics and philosophy of science in relation to placebo studies in the BMJ, Journal of Medical Ethics, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, etc. More broadly, she researchers philosophical issues relating to patient-doctor encounters.