Magician’s tricks to make better placebos to test dry needling in clinical trials
Placebos are fake treatments that are crucial in clinical trials to test whether a treatment actually works or if benefits are simply due to receiving seemingly credible treatment from a trusted clinician. But placebos only work if the patient and clinician don’t know it’s a fake.
Until now, the clinician, the patient, or both knew whether the needle was real or fake.
Researchers at the University of South Australia have therefore developed a placebo to test the effectiveness of dry needling.
Using magic tricks, postdoctoral fellow Felicity Braithwaite has invented a world-first placebo that gives the illusion of inserting a real needle into the skin for both clinician and be patient.
The needle actually disappears into a false base, never reaching the skin.
“My placebo uses many magical techniques,” Felicity explains.
“The false base is made of rigid foam, which gives clinicians the impression of having pierced the patient’s skin.
“For patients, I use the wrong direction – clinicians asked questions when needles were ‘inserted’ to distract patients, and I manipulate patients’ expectations of what the ‘dry needle should’ look like, suggesting that it’s normal to feel nothing at all because the needles are so thin.”
“That means they had no idea,” Felicity says. “My placebo was the first to successfully fool patients and clinicians and so we can better assess whether dry needling is actually effective in managing pain.”
Felicity says magicians could teach researchers a lot about improving the illusion of treatments when people are given placebos in other applications.
“These deceptive new techniques could be used to create better placebos for other complex treatments, a vital step towards improving the quality of healthcare,” she says.
Provided by Freshscience
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