A modest healthcare proposal: placebo pharmacies

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I’ve heard a lot of water-cooler chat about the accumulating indications that antidepressant medications are no more effective than placebos. And it’s not just antidepressants that fail to outperform sugar pills: a diverse collection of illnesses, from psoriasis to “orange-sized tumors,” apparently respond as well to fake medicine as they do to the ‘real’ stuff.

And we’ve been all flustered about this affordable healthcare kerfluffle! Clearly, we can address exorbitant drug costs, public health, and unemployment in one fell swoop. After a brief examination by a traditionally educated allopathic physician (you know, one of the poor saps who spent decades in pursuit of training and degrees and board certifications and whatnot) most patients could be referred to ‘specialists’ in their placebo-responsive conditions. The new specialists would be responsible for administering courses of well-chosen placebos. They wouldn’t need a lot of fancy education, just an easy-to-read chart with the various colors and shapes of pills and their effects – and, of course, a convincing bedside manner. You could take an unemployed worker straight off the welfare rolls after a six-week acting class, give him a white coat and a stethoscope, and let the perceived authority of the medical profession work its magic on the health problems of our society!

And for those of you concerned about the welfare of Big Pharma, and whether their vital research budgets would be undermined by all this open-access placebo distribution, fear not. Big Pharma is a vital component of the new system. Merck and Eli Lilly and all our other beloved corps can keep on doing what they do best – ubiquitous, expensive campaigns of deceptive direct marketing to consumers. We’ll need them to keep churning out television ads with carefree folks frollicking in sundappled fields, urging us to ask our doctors about Perfecterol and Idealexa. After all, the placebo effect is only as durable as our collective faith in the ineffable power of Pill. And if Big Pharma is good at manufacturing anything, it’s faith!

(Here’s a link to the full text of the Scientific American article linked above – the one with the citrus-sized weeping tumors – in case you don’t have a subscription.)

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