December 31st 2011

Homeopathy is effective, cost-effective and safe – concludes the Swiss Health Technology Assessment (HTA) report on homeopathy.
To read extracts or order a full copy of the report click here.

To download an article by Alexander Tournier on the Swiss report, click here.

The 2006 HTA report on homeopathy was commissioned by the Federal Social Insurance Office (FSIO) within the context of an overall evaluation of Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAMs). It was written by a team of German speaking academics and edited by G Bornhöft & F Matthiessen of Witten/Herdecke University in Germany.

Interestingly, the HTA methodology, unlike meta-analyses and systematic reports such as the Cochrane Collaboration, does not just ask the question of effectiveness of a particular intervention, it also addresses the questions of effectiveness of a therapy in everyday use (i.e. real world effectiveness), how it is used, its safety and its cost-effectiveness.

This report, amounting to 300 pages, exhaustively reviews the scientific literature in homeopathy. It summarises 22 reviews, 20 of which show positive results for homeopathy. Four of these showed strong evidence that homeopathy, as a system of medicine, is efficacious. It also finds strong supporting evidence for the homeopathic treatment of allergies and upper-respiratory tract infections.

Shang et al comparative meta-analysis which appeared in the Lancet in 2005 and was heralded by the Lancet’s editor as “The end of homeopathy” was, according to Bornhöft & Matthiessen, commissioned by the FSIO as a part of this same assessment of CAMs. It was originally meant to investigate the quality of homeopathy trials compared to those of conventional medicine. In the HTA report the authors analyse the Shang et al 2005 study, stating that, “Although we cannot conclude from the previous remarks [about the Shang et al 2005 study] the opposite conclusion – that homeopathy is effective – we can say with certainty that the Shang et al 2005 study does not prove that homeopathy has no effect.” The report also presents the results of the quality assessment of homeopathy trials, concluding that “studies of homeopathy and phytotherapy were of better quality than comparable conventional medicine studies”.

The Bornhöft & Matthiessen HTA report ends with this statement: “In summary, it can be said that there is sufficient evidence for the preclinical effectiveness and the clinical efficacy of homeopathy (evidence grades I and II) and for its safety and economy compared with conventional treatment……It is a highly popular intervention. Future research must respect the unique qualities of homeopathy by attaching more weight to single case evaluations, by including practically and expertly applied homeopathic treatment into research and clinical practice in order to identify its real potential and limitations.”

With the publication of the English translation of the HTA report, we hope that the debate will finally move from the question, ‘Does homeopathy work?’ to the more pressing questions of ‘How does homeopathy work?’ and ‘What conditions can homeopathy treat effectively and cost-efficiently?’.

‘Homeopathy in Healthcare: Effectiveness, Appropriateness, Safety, Costs’by Gudrun Bornhöft and Peter F. Matthiessen (Editors)
Original title:‘Homöopathie in der Krankenversorgung. Wirksamkeit, Nutzen, Sicherheit und Wirtschaftlichkeit’

Author: Alexander Tournier