Clinician Dr. Louann Brizendine is quoted in the New York Times as saying that she doesn’t do research because “I don’t want to give patients a placebo. It’s cruel.” The interviewer pushes her on the issue, pointing out that in the long term, controlled studies are necessary in order to determine the efficacy of treatments. Her reply: “I am glad someone does it, but I’d rather help each female brain that walks into my clinic walk out in better shape.”
Adam Kolber wonders if something might have been lost in the transcription of the interview, but I don’t doubt that Brizendine’s sentiments may have been perfectly expressed in her statement.
In a former life, I did back-end work on clinical cancer studies, and I saw a lot of data. There were “compassionate” doctors who lost patients because they didn’t want to see them “suffer” through chemotherapy. There were doctors who would only agree to participate if they were assured their patients wouldn’t be in the control group. Some of the medical records were in such disarray that it was impossible to decipher what treatment patients had received. All these doctors said they cared about their patients more than they cared about the study, but in the end, they were just making things more difficult for patients — their patients — in the future, who wouldn’t benefit from good research.
A lot of medical research doesn’t actually use true placebos. Instead, they compare a new treatment to an older treatment. The control group gets treated, just not with the particular regimen that’s under study. There’s no assurance that the experimental group will fare better than the control group — the experimental treatment could have worse side effects, or simply not be as effective as the “tried and true” medication. Yet it always seems that people who are critical of medical studies claim they are cruel to the control group.
I can’t speak for Brizendine, but I suspect the real reason that many doctors don’t like to participate in clinical studies is that they don’t want someone looking over their shoulder. They believe they know what’s best for their patients, and they don’t want someone else questioning their judgment. This attitude only makes things more difficult for researchers, and probably contributes in some ways to heavy-handed behavior that doctors don’t like.
In other news:
- The Echo Maker is on my reading list over Christmas break. If you can’t wait for my review, Mind Hacks has info.
- “Harsher prison conditions lead to more post-release crime”. Apparently the Dutch are on to something.
- Mandarin language is processed like music
- My favorite kind of research: the kind that demonstrates that the stuff I’m doing anyway is good for me. Well, other than the “moderation” part, that is.