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Safety and cost benefit
A review of the safety of homeopathy, conducted by doctors associated with the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital (RLHH) studied papers published between 1970 and 1995 for reports of adverse effects of homeopathy.
Adverse effects reported in clinical trials were temporary aggravations of symptoms or other mild and transient effects (mostly headaches, tiredness, skin eruptions, dizziness or diarrhoea).
Only a very few isolated reports of proper adverse effects were attributable to homeopathic medicines.1 The authors of the review concluded: "Homeopathic medicines in high dilutions, prescribed by trained professionals, are probably safe and unlikely to provoke serious adverse reactions".
One of the expressed reasons for the popularity of homeopathy among patients at the RLHH is that it does not have the side effects associated with many conventional drugs.2
The available evidence suggests that homeopathy has the potential to generate savings through reduced conventional prescribing and demand for other services.3 A full economic evaluation of homeopathy has, to date, taken place only once, mainly because of the large resources involved in doing so. The single study of this type – in Germany – the cost-effectiveness of the commercial homeopathic preparation Sinfrontal® was assessed in a placebo-controlled trial of adults with acute maxillary sinusitis.4 Sinfrontal® led to average incremental savings of 275 euros per patient compared with placebo over 22 days.
Another research group in Germany compared homeopathic and conventional GPs’ outcomes in chronic diagnoses commonly treated in general practice (adults – headache, low back pain, depression, insomnia, sinusitis; children – atopic asthma, dermatitis, rhinitis).5 They collected data at 6 and 12 months regarding symptom severity, quality of life, and costs of consultations, medication, physiotherapy, hospitalisation, sick pay and medical devices. 493 patients were treated by 101 homeopathic GPs and 59 conventional GPs. The findings suggested that patients who received homeopathic treatment had better outcomes for similar cost.
Studies elsewhere, including the United Kingdom, have also shown that the purchase costs of orthodox drugs and procedures fell after the introduction of homeopathy.6–12 Moreover, a comparative study has suggested that homeopathic management of children with recurrent upper respiratory tract infections was more cost-effective than conventional care.13 Another study concluded that homeopathy might be able to reduce the need for antibiotics in children with acute otitis media.14
1. Dantas F, Rampes H. Do homeopathic medicines provoke adverse effects? A systematic review. British Homeopathic Journal 2000; 89: S35–8.
2. Sharples F, van Haselen R. Patients’ perspectives on using a complementary medicine approach to their health. A survey at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital NHS Trust. London, 1998.
3. Smallwood, C. The Role of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the NHS, FreshMinds. October, 2005
4. Kneis KC, Gandjour A. Economic evaluation of Sinfrontal® in the treatment of acute maxillary sinusitis in adults. Applied Health Economics & Health Policy 2009; 7: 181–91.
5. Witt C, Keil T, Selim D, et al. Outcome and costs of homeopathic and conventional treatment strategies: a comparative cohort study in patients with chronic disorders. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 2005; 13: 79–86.
6. Swayne J. The cost and effectiveness of homoeopathy. Br Homeopath J 1992; 81: 148–50.
7. Feldhaus HW. Cost-effectiveness of homoeopathic treatment in a dental practice. British Homeopathic Journal 1993; 82: 22–8.
8. van Haselen RA, Graves N, Dahiha S. The costs of treating rheumatoid arthritis patients with complementary medicine: exploring the issue. Complementary Therapies in Medicine 1999; 7: 217–21.
9. Frenkel M, Hermoni D. Effects of homeopathic intervention on medication consumption in atopic and allergic disorders. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine 2002; 8: 76–9.
10. Jain A. Does homeopathy reduce the cost of conventional drug prescribing? A study of comparative prescribing costs in general practice. Homeopathy 2003; 92: 71–6.
11. Van Wassenhoven M, Ives G. An observational study of patients receiving homeopathic treatment. Homeopathy 2004; 93: 3–11.
12. Rossi E, Crudeli L, Endrizzi C, Garibaldi D. Cost-effectiveness evaluation of homeopathic vs conventional therapy in respiratory diseases. Proceedings of Improving the Success of Homeopathy; 26-27 Jan, 2006; London: p 5.
13. Chaufferin G, et al. Medicoeconomic assessment of treatment of recurrent acute rhinopharyngitis in 18-month-old to 4-year-old children by general practitioners. Proceedings Journées de l’Institut Boiron
14. Frei H, Thurneysen A. Homeopathy in acute otitis media in children: treatment effect or spontaneous resolution? British Homeopathic Journal 2001; 90: 180–2.