MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Robert Jütte, a German medical historian, has long been a defender of homeopathy and other forms of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM). His latest paper refers to the situation in Switzerland where the public was given the chance to vote for or against the reimbursement of several SCAMs, including homeopathy. I reported previously about this unusual situation, e.g.:

Unsurprisingly, Prof Jütte’s views are quite different from mine. Here is the abstract of his recent paper:

Behind the principle of involving users and voters directly in decision-making about the health care system are ideas relating to empowerment. This implies a challenge to the traditional view that scientific knowledge is generally believed to be of higher value than tried and tested experience, as it is the case with CAM. The aim of this review is to show how a perspective of the history of medicine and science as well as direct democracy mechanisms such as stipulated in the Swiss constitution can be used to achieve the acceptance of CAM in a modern medical health care system. A public health care system financed by levies from the population should also reflect the widely documented desire in the population for medical pluralism (provided that therapeutical alternatives are not risky). Otherwise, the problem of social inequality arises because only people with a good financial background can afford this medicine.

I think that Jütte’s statement that “a public health care system financed by levies from the population should also reflect the widely documented desire in the population for medical pluralism provided that therapeutical alternatives are not risky. Otherwise, the problem of social inequality arises because only people with a good financial background can afford this medicine” is untenable. Here are my reasons:

  • Lay people are not normally sufficiently informed to decide which treatments are effective and which are not. If we leave these decisions to the public, we will end up with all manner of nonsense diluting the effectiveness of our health services and wasting our scarce public funds.
  • Jütte seems to assume that SCAMs that are not risky do no harm. He fails to consider that ineffective treatments inevitably do harm by not adequately treating symptoms and diseases. In serious conditions this will even hasten the death of patients!
  • Jütte seems concerned about inequity, yet I think this concern is misplaced. Not paying from the public purse for nonsensical therapies is hardly a disadvantage. Arguably, those who cannot affort ineffective SCAMs are even likely to benefit in terms of their health.

I do realize that there might be conflicting ethical principles at play here. I am, however, convinced that the ethical concern of doing more good than harm to as many consumers as possible is best realized by implementing the principles of evidence-based medicine. Or – to put it bluntly – a healthcare system is not a supermarket where consumers can pick and chose any rubbish they fancy.

I wonder who you think is correct, Jütte or I?

3 Responses to Involving voters and consumers in decision-making about the health care system: The Swiss case

  • The best review can only be received through feedback from the customers and clients. Of course! their opinion matters.

  • “…more good than harm to as many consumers as possible is best realized by implementing the principles of evidence-based medicine.”

    True in the theoretical sense.

    Recently I came across an article that stated that there are “NO DRUGS EVER TESTED FOR PREGNANT WOMEN AND CHILDREN”. (for obvious reasons.)

    What is the basis of doctors merrily using drugs on children and pregnant women without evidence? What is the expected outcome “In serious conditions will this even hasten the death of patients!”

  • This implies a challenge to the traditional view that scientific knowledge is generally believed to be of higher value than tried and tested experience, as it is the case with CAM.

    Actually, the traditional view is that “experience”, especially if endorsed by authority, is of higher value than this new-fangled science stuff.

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