Avins AL, Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Goldberg H, Pressman A., Trials. 13:44. doi: 10.1186/1745-6215-13-44., 2012 Apr 27
BACKGROUND: Modern clinical-research practice favors placebo controls over usual-care controls whenever a credible placebo exists. An unrecognized consequence of this preference is that clinicians are more limited in their ability to provide the benefits of the non-specific healing effects of placebos in clinical practice.
METHODS: We examined the issues in choosing between placebo and usual-care controls. We considered why placebo controls place constraints on clinicians and the trade-offs involved in the choice of control groups.
RESULTS: We find that, for certain studies, investigators should consider usual-care controls, even if an adequate placebo is available. Employing usual-care controls would be of greatest value for pragmatic trials evaluating treatments to improve clinical care and for which threats to internal validity can be adequately managed without a placebo-control condition.
CONCLUSIONS: Intentionally choosing usual-care controls, even when a satisfactory placebo exists, would allow clinicians to capture the value of non-specific therapeutic benefits that are common to all interventions. The result could be more effective, patient-centered care that makes the best use of both specific and non-specific benefits of medical interventions.