Patients’ expectations towards the benefit of a treatment are key determinants of placebo responses and can affect the development and course of medical conditions and the efficacy and tolerability of active medical treatment. The mechanisms mediating these placebo and nocebo effects have been best described in the field of experimental pain and placebo analgesia. However, also in dermatology experimental and clinical studies demonstrate that various skin diseases such as inflammatory dermatoses and allergic reactions can be modulated by patients’ expectations. Dermatologists should consider the important modulatory role of patients’ expectations on the efficacy and tolerability of specific treatments and the key role of verbal information, patients’ prior treatment experiences (associative learning), and the quality and quantity of doctor-patient communication in shaping treatment expectation. As a consequence, techniques aiming at maximizing patients’ expectation effects should be implemented into daily clinical routine. By contrast, in clinical studies expectation effects should be maximally controlled and harmonized to improve the “assay sensitivity” to detect new compounds. Further translational studies, also in dermatoses that have not been investigated yet, are needed to better characterize the mechanisms underlying patients’ expectation and to gain further insights into potential clinical implications of these effects in dermatologic conditions. Therefore, in this review, we provide a brief overview on the concept of expectation effects on treatment outcome in general, summarize what is already known about this topic for dermatologic diseases, and finally present the relevance of this topic in clinical dermatology.
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