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← The trouble with homeopathy

hungarianelephant's Avatar Jump to comment 16 by hungarianelephant

But until homeopathy is demonstrated to work (which it almost certainly will never be) it should not be supported by the NHS.

I agree, but the problem is that this experiment won't either demonstrate that homeopathy works or disprove it in the sense that matters for this question. It will show that the effect of homeopathy (if any) is or is not placebo, which is not the same question at all.

Even some of the adherents of homeopathy say that it's likely that some positive effects come from an extended consultation. Most people turning up at the GP's surgery don't have very much organically wrong with them, and a nice chat might well help them to feel better. Since the average GP consultation is 12 minutes, up from 8 minutes, and since there seems to be an in-built expectation that a prescription will be written in the course of that, and since most patients have already been there fairly recently, there's definitely some scope for some kind of alternative approach. Homeopaths are a lot cheaper than GPs. It just might be cost-effective.

But what is essential is that there is a level playing field. It should be up to the homeopaths to show that they have a method of treatment which is effective and cost-effective, not for robust science to be constantly pushing down bubbles under the wallpaper as the claims subtly shift.

This could not be done (fully) with a placebo-controlled double blind trial, but it could be done with a large study in which a larger number of patients are randomised into homeopathy group and conventional medicine group. (It would be possible to have placebo controls within those groups, which would make for a more interesting study.) The symptoms of the various groups could be assessed at the end of the study, together with data on repeat visits, in order to work out an average cost and average effect for the two groups.

Then we'd have a basis for deciding whether the NHS should fund. At the moment, we don't.

Wed, 24 Feb 2010 13:24:00 UTC | #443727