According to a Australian study into the impact of placebos released Friday, drugs may cure the sick, but patients can also benefit from the warmth and wisdom of the doctors treating them.
Sydney University's Damien Finniss led a team of international experts who reviewed scientific papers on the impact of placebos, or dummy pills used in control tests, dating back to the 1700s.
They found that not only could placebos be helpful on their own, but that much medical practice -- even something as simple as administering a drug -- had a similarly comforting impact.
"Most people still think of placebo as an effect which occurs in some people when they receive a sham or dummy treatment, usually when studying the effectiveness of a new treatment," Finniss said. "But we've moved past that."
Finniss said the research, which has been published in medical journal The Lancet, showed treatments that engage the mind can potentially promote the body's natural healing mechanisms.
"Our research reveals that placebo effects can occur in routine medical practice across a wide range of medical conditions -- and these effects can be therapeutically powerful."
Finniss said some studies had shown that patients who were given a painkiller that was later replaced with a placebo still continued to report a lessening in their pain, a finding confirmed by brain scans.
Another found that patients benefited more from receiving a drug via an injection from a doctor than via a computerised pump.
"You don't have to give a dummy pill to get a placebo effect," Finniss told AFP, adding that the context of the treatment was often just as important.
But what if you have little faith in your doctor's ability to help you?
"Hypothetically, you may be at risk of less of a placebo effect," Finniss said.