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Is there a nocebo response that results from disease awareness campaigns and advertising in Australia, and can this effect be mitigated?
  1. Stuart Benson1,
  2. David Hunter2
  1. 1 College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  2. 2 Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity, Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Mr Stuart Benson, College of Medicine and Public Health, Flinders University, Adelaide, SA 5042, Australia; bens0066{at}


Direct-to-consumer advertising is banned in Australia, and instead pharmaceutical companies use disease awareness campaigns as a strategy to raise public awareness of conditions for which the company produces a treatment. This practice has been justified by promoting individual autonomy and public health, but it has attracted criticism regarding medicalisation of normal health and ageing, and exaggeration of the severity of the condition in question, imbalanced reporting of risks and benefits, and damaging the patient–clinician relationship. While there are benefits of disease awareness promotion, there is another possible adverse consequence that has not yet been rigorously considered: the possibility of inducing a nocebo response via the campaign. We will discuss the creation of a nocebo response in this context.

  • public health ethics
  • applied and professional ethics
  • drugs and drug industry

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  • Contributors SB performed the literature search and authored the paper. DH provided the initial idea for the paper and reviewed the paper throughout writing and prior to submission.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.