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New centre of expertise makes placebo research accessible for healthcare and society

Positive expectations about treatment increase the likelihood of success. The new Center for Interdisciplinary Placebo Studies Leiden is therefore promoting research on the placebo effect and offering expertise and training for care providers. At the opening, the founders demonstrated their VR communications training.

The initiative for the centre of expertise comes from scientists at Leiden University who are researching placebo effects and want to combine their efforts. They all work in interdisciplinary environments and bring together discoveries from diverse disciplines, including psychology, neuroscience and biomedical sciences. They collaborate with national and international researchers from other fields, medical researchers in hospitals, societal partners and innovative companies.

The Center for Interdisciplinary Placebo Studies Leiden - abbreviated as IPS - officially opened April 13 in the Academy Building. It’s The Netherlands’ first centre of expertise in this field.

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Role of expectations

The Leiden researchers conduct pioneering research on placebo and nocebo effects and the role of expectations. ‘It’s about the expectations of patients as well as care providers,’ Professor of Health Psychology Andrea Evers explains. ‘If people have positive expectations about a treatment, there is a greater likelihood that the treatment will be effective. And conversely, negative expectations exacerbate physical complaints: the nocebo effect.  We are studying how behaviour, thoughts and emotions influence physical complaints and the course of a treatment.’ 

'Negative expectations can also exacerbate physical complaints'

Importance of research for healthcare and patients

Trust in the healthcare provider and optimal communication between doctor and patient are thus crucial. The centre makes placebo and nocebo research accessible and offers various services for professionals. LUMC paediatric cardiologist Arno Roest from the LUMC is one of the partners that Leiden researchers work with. ‘We are very happy with this research collaboration; the results have a direct benefit for our patient care and for our training.’ 


Demonstration of training with VR tool

As an important first step, the centre of expertise, together with the Institute for Responsible Drug Use and VR specialist The Simulation Crew, have developed a clinical application: a communication training programme for care providers to improve treatment outcomes. As part of this training, care providers use E-learning and a Virtual Reality tool to learn how to optimise placebo effects and minimise nocebo effects through communication. The eLearning is available for free download.

'There is a world to learn in the contact with patients'

Opening on 13 April

Research on placebo effects has made great leaps in the last 20 years, psychologists Judy Veldhuijzen and Liesbeth van Vliet emphasized at the official opening. Eric Jutten of The Simulation Crew explained how training with a VR tool provides the most realistic preparation for practice. Medics are very interested in this, said Monique Dirven of the Institute for Responsible Medicine Use. 'There is a world to learn in the contact with patients,' agreed general practitioner Ariëtte Sanders, who was also involved in the development of the training. 'It is so important that doctors and nurses become even more aware of communication techniques.' If it were up to her, the training would not only be given as refresher courses, but would already be used in regular medical training.

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