Believe it or not, I started my medical career in homeopathy, to be more exact, in the ‘Krankenhaus fuer Naturheilweisen’ in Munich. That was directly after studying medicine almost 40 years ago. I am not ashamed to admit that I was impressed (show me a doctor who is not balled over with his/her first clinical post and I show you a person without compassion who should have chosen another profession). I stayed about half a year in this hospital and then moved on to lots of other things.
So, how has homeopathy cured me?
In medical school, I am afraid to say, we did not learn critical thinking, not even one iota of it! When I started working, and saw several patients who did get better after taking my homeopathic remedies, I was fascinated. Back in medical school, our pharmacology professor used to go apoplectic when anyone mentioned homeopathy, and I thus knew very well that there was no way it could possibly work. But it did!!! My patients did improve! I had seen it with my own eyes!
This discrepancy needed an explanation. Years later, it became my job to apply science to alternative medicine, and I picked up the subject roughly where I had left it more than a decade before. Now, we did systematic research and published dozens of papers on homeopathy. Even though I started this work slightly on the ‘pro- homeopathic foot’, in the end, the discrepancy between the scientific evidence and the anecdotal observations of millions of patients and homeopaths and myself dissolved into thin air: homeopathic remedies are pure placebos, and there is no discrepancy at all between evidence and anecdote.
Patients can improve for all sorts of reasons:
1) the natural history of the condition
2) placebo effects
3) other treatments they fail to tell their doctor about
4) because the clinician is nice and compassionate
These are, of course, pretty obvious insights. Yet, remarkably, doctors and other clinicians of all specialities very rarely have them, in my experience. When a patient gets better after our treatments (homeopathic or otherwise), we almost automatically assume that our interventions did the trick. Few of us have the courage to admit that this is only one of many explanations.
To accurately differentiate between effects of the treatment per se and the host of context effects which can mimic them, we need critical thinking. The lack of critical thinking in health care is, I think, like an illness which hinders progress. AND IT WAS HOMEOPATHY THAT CURED ME FROM IT.