If so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) ever were to enter the Guinness Book of Records, it would most certainly be because it generates more surveys than any other area of medical inquiry. I have long been rather sceptical about this survey-mania. Therefore, I greet any major new survey with some trepidation.
The aim of this new survey was to obtain up-to-date general population figures for practitioner-led SCAM use in England, and to discover people’s views and experiences regarding access. The researchers commissioned a face-to-face questionnaire survey of a nationally representative adult quota sample (aged ≥15 years). Ten questions were included within Ipsos MORI’s weekly population-based survey. The questions explored 12-month practitioner-led SCAM use, reasons for non-use, views on NHS-provided SCAM, and willingness to pay.
Of 4862 adults surveyed, 766 (16%) had seen a SCAM practitioner. People most commonly visited SCAM practitioners for manual therapies (massage, osteopathy, chiropractic) and acupuncture, as well as yoga, pilates, reflexology, and mindfulness or meditation. Women, people with higher socioeconomic status (SES) and those in south England were more likely to access SCAM. Musculoskeletal conditions (mainly back pain) accounted for 68% of use, and mental health 12%. Most was through self-referral (70%) and self-financing. GPs (17%) or NHS professionals (4%) referred and/or recommended SCAM to users. These SCAM users were more often unemployed, with lower income and social grade, and receiving NHS-funded SCAM. Responders were willing to pay varying amounts for SCAM; 22% would not pay anything. Almost two in five responders felt NHS funding and GP referral and/or endorsement would increase their SCAM use.
The authors concluded that SCAM is commonly used in England, particularly for musculoskeletal and mental health problems, and by affluent groups paying privately. However, less well-off people are also being GP-referred for NHS-funded treatments. For SCAM with evidence of effectiveness (and cost-effectiveness), those of lower SES may be unable to access potentially useful interventions, and access via GPs may be able to address this inequality. Researchers, patients, and commissioners should collaborate to research the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of SCAM, and consider its availability on the NHS.
I feel that a few critical thoughts are in order:
- The authors call their survey an ‘up-date’. The survey ran between 25 September and 18 October 2015. That is more than three years ago. I would not exactly call this an up-date!
- Authors (several of whom are known SCAM-enthusiasts) also state that practitioner-led SCAM use was about 5% higher than previous national (UK and England) surveys. This may relate to the authors’ wider SCAM definition, which included 11 more therapies than Hunt et al (a survey from my team), or increased SCAM use since 2005. Despite this uncertainty, the authors write this: Figures from 2005 reported that 12% of the English population used practitioner-led CAM. This 2015 survey has found that 16% of the general population had used practitioner-led CAM in the previous 12 months. Thus, they imply that SCAM-use has been increasing.
- The main justification for running yet another survey presumably was to determine whether SCAM-use has increased, decreased or remained the same (virtually everything else found in the new survey had been shown many times before). To not answer this main question conclusively by asking the same questions as a previous survey is just daft, in my view. We have used the same survey methods at two points one decade apart and found little evidence for an increase, on the contrary: overall, GPs were less likely to endorse CAMs than previously shown (38% versus 19%).
- The main reason why I have long been critical about such surveys is the manner in which their data get interpreted. The present paper is no exception in this respect. Invariably the data show that SCAM is used by those who can afford it. This points to INEQUALITY that needs to be addressed by allowing much more SCAM on the public purse. In other words, such surveys are little more that very expensive and somewhat under-hand promotion of quackery.
- Yes, I know, the present authors are more clever than that; they want the funds limited to SCAM with evidence of effectiveness and cost-effectiveness. So, why do they not list those SCAMs together with the evidence for effectiveness and cost-effectiveness? This would enable us to check the validity of the claim that more public money should fund SCAM. I think I know why: such SCAMs do not exist or, at lest, they are extremely rare.
But otherwise the new survey was excellent.
The PGIH (currently chaired by the Tory MP David Tredinnick) was founded in 1992 (in the mid 1990, they once invited me to give a lecture which I did with pleasure). Its overriding aim is to bring about improvements in patient care. The PGIH have conducted a consultation that involved 113 SCAM-organisations and other stakeholders. The new PGIH-report is based on their feedback and makes 14 recommendations. They are all worth studying but, to keep this post concise, I have selected the three that fascinated me most:
Evidence Base and Research
NICE guidelines are too narrow and do not ﬁt well with models of care such as complementary, traditional and natural therapies, and should incorporate qualitative evidence and patient outcomes measures as well as RCT evidence. Complementary, traditional and natural healthcare associations should take steps to educate and advise their members on the use of Measure Yourself Medical Outcome Proﬁles (MYMOP), and patient outcome measures should be collated by an independent central resource to identify for what conditions patients are seeking treatment, and with what outcomes.
Every cancer patient and their families should be offered complementary therapies as part of their treatment package to support them in their cancer journey. Cancer centres and hospices providing access to complementary therapies should be encouraged to make wider use of Measure Yourself Concerns and Wellbeing (MYCaW) to evaluate the beneﬁts gained by patients using complementary therapies in cancer support care. Co-ordinated research needs to be carried out, both clinical trials and qualitative studies, on a range of complementary, traditional and natural therapies used in cancer care support.
The government should run NHS pilot projects which look at non-conventional ways of treating patients with long-term and chronic conditions affected by Effectiveness Gaps, such as stress, arthritis, asthma and musculoskeletal problems, and audit these results against conventional treatment options for these conditions to determine whether cost savings and better patient outcomes could be achieved.
END OF QUOTE
Here are a few brief comments on those three recommendations.
Evidence base and research
NICE guidelines are based on rigorous assessments of efficacy, safety and costs. Such evaluations are possible for all interventions, including SCAM. Qualitative data are useless for this purpose. Outcome measures like the MYMOP are measures that can and are used in clinical trials. To use them outside clinical trials would not provide any relevant information about the specific effects of SCAM because this cannot account for confounding factors like the natural history of the disease, regression towards the mean, etc. The entire paragraph disclosed a remarkable level of naivety and ignorance about research on behalf of the PGIH.
There is already a significant amount of research on SCAM for cancer (see for instance here). It shows that no SCAM is effective in curing any form of cancer, and that only very few SCAMs can effectively improve the quality of life of cancer patients. Considering these facts, the wholesale recommendation of offering SCAM to cancer patients can only be characterised as dangerous quackery.
Such a pilot project has already been conducted at the behest of Price Charles (see here). Its results show that flimsy research will generate flimsy findings. If anything, a rigorous trial would be needed to test whether more SCAM on the NHS saves or costs money. The data currently available suggests that the latter is the case (see also here, here, here, here, etc.).
Altogether, one gets the impression that the PGIH need to brush up on their science and knowledge (if they invite me, I’d be delighted to give them another lecture). As it stands, it seems unlikely that their approach will, in fact, bring about improvements in patient care.
On this blog and elsewhere, I have repeatedly criticised the concepts of ‘integrative medicine’ (IM). But criticising is easy, improving would be better. Today, I want to re-visit and revise the idea of IM and propose the concept of a ‘reformed integrated medicine’ (RIM).
Proponents of IM suggest that we should use ‘the best of both worlds’ for the benefit of our patients. This seems to be a progressive and ethical approach to improving healthcare. Therefore, I fully accept this idea. However, I suggest to not stop here; if we are serious about wanting the best for our patients, we must not just integrate, we should also disintegrate! We also need to think about disintegrating (discarding) modalities that are not fit for purpose. This, in a nutshell, is the concept of RIM.
In order to make real progress, we need to have a critical look at all the diagnostic, preventive, therapeutic and rehabilitative practices available to date and:
- integrate those into routine care that demonstrably generate more good than harm,
- disintegrate those that do not meet this criterion.
THE BEST, AND ONLY THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS!!!
This means, we use must throw overboard those that are not best. In healthcare ‘best’ can, of course, only mean effective and safe.
I am aware that this is only a very rough sketch of what RIM stands for. But even in this preliminary form, it is easy to see that, although IM and RIM seem to differ only marginally, their effects on healthcare would differ dramatically. Let me demonstrate this by providing 5 examples from my area of expertise:
|Iridology||embraced by IM||discarded by RIM|
|Homeopathy||embraced by IM||discarded by RIM|
|Chiropractic||embraced by IM||discarded by RIM|
|Reiki||embraced by IM||discarded by RIM|
|Reflexology||embraced by IM||discarded by RIM|
I am sure, you get the gist of it. In RIM, we no longer employ things that don’t work. They are of no real use to patients and possibly even cause harm. RIM not only is the only ethical approach, it also generates progress.
So, RIM – just a tiny adaptation of IM – is the solution.
Gosh, I am proud of my splendid innovation.
Progress at last!
Ooops … I just realised, RIM has one little flaw: it already exists.
It’s called evidence-based medicine.
Today is Charles’ 70th birthday! On previous occasions, I have published a detailed review of Charles’ outstanding achievements in the realm of alternative medicine. For his 70th, I feel that something else is required. How about a personal birthday card?
HAPPY BIRTHDAY YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS!
I know, it is not easy to become 70, but you must look on the bright side: you are reasonably healthy, you are not exactly a poor man, and you even managed to change the rules and marry the woman you have always loved. What else could you wish for?
Yes, I know, your big idea of ‘Integrated Medicine’ is not doing all that brilliantly. Your book ‘Harmony‘ was viciously ridiculed, and the ‘best of both worlds’ turns out to be a bit of a strange idea. The thing is that, in healthcare, there is only one real world: the world of reality, facts and evidence. The other is the unreal world of fantasy, wishful thinking and mysticism.
We all know you love homeopathy. After listening to Laurence van der Post in your younger days, it would have been lovely for you, had the notion of a remedy based on a mystical vital force been true. It would have avoided all the complexities of reality. But now, at the age of 70, you must have realised that make belief is a poor substitute for fact.
It has become all but impossible to ignore the truth about homeopathy. Only last year, the European Academies Science Advisory Council concluded that “the claims for homeopathy are implausible and inconsistent with established scientific concepts” and that “there are no known diseases for which there is robust, reproducible evidence that homeopathy is effective beyond the placebo effect”. Such brutal realism must be painful. And now the NHS decided to ditch homeopathy completely. All your homeopathic spider memos for nothing!
Yes, it is tough to grow old. But perhaps it is not too late. You could try to forget about van der Post and all your other ill-advised ‘advisers’. Instead, you could gather a few young, energetic, bright scientists and let them inspire you with the beauty and excitement of reality and science. You could still become a force for real progress in healthcare.
Think about it and keep looking on the bright side.
Many happy returns
The Clinic for Complementary Medicine and Diet in Oncology was opened, in collaboration with the oncology department, at the Hospital of Lucca (Italy) in 2013. It uses a range of alternative therapies aimed at reducing the adverse effects of conventional oncology treatments.
Their latest paper presents the results of complementary medicine (CM) treatment targeted toward reducing the adverse effects of anticancer therapy and cancer symptoms, and improving patient quality of life. Dietary advice was aimed at the reduction of foods that promote inflammation in favour of those with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
This is a retrospective observational study on 357 patients consecutively visited from September 2013 to December 2017. The intensity of symptoms was evaluated according to a grading system from G0 (absent) to G1 (slight), G2 (moderate), and G3 (strong). The severity of radiodermatitis was evaluated with the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group (RTOG) scale. Almost all the patients (91.6%) were receiving or had just finished some form of conventional anticancer therapy.
The main types of cancer were breast (57.1%), colon (7.3%), lung (5.0%), ovary (3.9%), stomach (2.5%), prostate (2.2%), and uterus (2.5%). Comparison of clinical conditions before and after treatment showed a significant amelioration of all symptoms evaluated: nausea, insomnia, depression, anxiety, fatigue, mucositis, hot flashes, joint pain, dysgeusia, neuropathy.
The authors concluded that the integration of evidence-based complementary treatments seems to provide an effective response to cancer patients’ demand for a reduction of the adverse effects of anticancer treatments and the symptoms of cancer itself, thus improving patient’s quality of life and combining safety and equity of access within public healthcare systems. It is, therefore, necessary for physicians (primarily oncologists) and other healthcare professionals in this ﬁeld to be appropriately informed about the potential beneﬁts of CMs.
Why do I call this ‘wishful thinking’?
I have several reasons:
- A retrospective observational study cannot establish cause and effect. It is likely that the findings were due to a range of factors unrelated to the interventions used, including time, extra attention, placebo, social desirability, etc.
- Some of the treatments in the therapeutic package were not CM, reasonable and evidence-based. Therefore, it is likely that these interventions had positive effects, while CM might have been totally useless.
- To claim that the integration of evidence-based complementary treatments seems to provide an effective response to cancer patients’ is pure fantasy. Firstly, some of the CMs were certainly not evidence-based (the clinic’s prime focus is on homeopathy). Secondly, as already pointed out, the study does not establish cause and effect.
- The notion that it is necessary for physicians (primarily oncologists) and other healthcare professionals in this ﬁeld to be appropriately informed about the potential beneﬁts of CMs is not what follows from the data. The paper shows, however, that the authors of this study are in need to be appropriately informed about EBM as well as CM.
I stumbled across this paper because a homeopath cited it on Twitter claiming that it proves the effectiveness of homeopathy for cancer patients. This fact highlights why such publications are not just annoyingly useless but acutely dangerous. They mislead many cancer patients to opt for bogus treatments. In turn, this demonstrates why it is important to counterbalance such misinformation, critically evaluate it and minimise the risk of patients getting harmed.
The ‘Schwaebische Tageblatt’ is not on my regular reading list. But this article of yesterday (16/10/2018) did catch my attention. For those who read German, I will copy it below, and for those who don’t I will provide a brief summary and comment thereafter:
Die grün-schwarze Landesregierung lässt 2019 den ersten Lehrstuhl für Naturheilkunde und Integrative Medizin in Baden-Württemberg einrichten. Lehrstuhl für Naturheilkunde und Integrative Medizin
Ihren Schwerpunkt soll die Professur im Bereich Onkologie haben. Strömungen wie Homöopathie oder Anthroposophie sollen nicht gelehrt, aber innerhalb der Lehre beleuchtet werden, sagte Ingo Autenrieth, Dekan der Medizinischen Fakultät in Tübingen am Dienstag der Deutschen Presse-Agentur. «Ideologien und alles, was nichts mit Wissenschaft zu tun hat, sortieren wir aus.»
Die Professur soll sich demnach mit Themen wie Ernährung, Probiotika und Akupunktur beschäftigten. Geplant ist laut Wissenschaftsministerium, die Lehre in Tübingen anzusiedeln; die Erforschung der komplementären Therapien soll vorwiegend am Centrum für Tumorerkrankungen des Robert-Bosch-Krankenhauses in Stuttgart stattfinden. Die Robert-Bosch-Stiftung finanziert die Professur in den ersten fünf Jahren mit insgesamt 1,84 Millionen Euro, danach soll das Land die Mittel dafür bereitstellen.
«Naturheilkunde und komplementäre Behandlungsmethoden werden von vielen Menschen ganz selbstverständlich genutzt, beispielsweise zur Ergänzung konventioneller Therapieangebote», begründete Wissenschaftsministerin Theresia Bauer (Grüne) das Engagement. Sogenannte sanfte oder natürliche Methoden könnten schwere Krankheiten wie etwa Krebs alleine nicht heilen, heißt es in einer Mitteilung des Ministeriums. Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse zeigten aber, dass sie häufig zu Therapieerfolgen beitragen könnten, da sie den Patienten helfen, schulmedizinische Therapien gut zu überstehen – etwa die schweren Nebenwirkungen von Chemotherapien mindern.
Im Gegensatz zur Schulmedizin gebe es bisher aber kaum kontrollierte klinische Studien zur Wirksamkeit solcher Therapien, ergänzte Ingo Autenrieth. Ihre Erforschung am neuen Lehrstuhl solle Patienten Sicherheit bringen und ermöglichen, dass die gesetzlichen Krankenkassen die Kosten dafür übernehmen.
Hersteller alternativer Arzneimittel loben den Schritt der Politik. «Baden-Württemberg nimmt damit eine Vorreiterrolle in Deutschland und in Europa ein», heißt es beim Unternehmen Wala Heilmittel GmbH in Bad Boll. Die Landesregierung trage mit der Entscheidung dem Wunsch vieler Patienten und Ärzte nach umfassenden Behandlungskonzepten Rechnung.
Auch hoffen die Unternehmen, dass Licht in die oft kritische Debatte um Homöopathie gebracht wird. «Wir sehen mit Erstaunen und Befremden, dass eine bewährte Therapierichtung wie die Homöopathie, die Teil der Vielfalt des therapeutischen Angebots in Deutschland ist, diskreditiert werden soll», sagte ein Sprecher des Herstellers Weleda AG mit Sitz in Schwäbisch Gmünd der Deutschen Presse-Agentur. Deshalb begrüße man den Lehrstuhl: «Es ist gut, dass Forschung und Lehre ausgebaut werden, da eine Mehrheit der Bevölkerung Komplementärmedizin wünscht und nachfragt. Es braucht Ärzte, die in diesen Bereichen auch universitär ausgebildet werden.»
Laut Koalitionsvertrag will Baden-Württemberg künftig eine Vorreiterrolle in der Erforschung der Komplementärmedizin einnehmen. Bisher gab es im Südwesten mit dem Akademischen Zentrum für Komplementäre und Integrative Medizin (AZKIM) zwar einen Verbund der Unikliniken Tübingen, Freiburg, Ulm und Heidelberg, aber keinen eigenen Lehrstuhl. Bundesweit existieren nach Angaben der Hufelandgesellschaft, dem Dachverband der Ärztegesellschaften für Naturheilkunde und Komplementärmedizin, Lehrstühle für Naturheilkunde noch an den Universitäten Duisburg-Essen, Rostock und Witten/Herdecke sowie drei Stiftungsprofessuren an der Berliner Charité.
END OF QUOTE
And here is my English summary:
The black/green government of Baden-Wuerttemberg has decided to create a ‘chair of naturopathy and integrated medicine’ at the university of Tuebingen in 2019. The chair will focus in the area of oncology. Treatments such as homeopathy and anthroposophical medicine will not be taught but merely mentioned in lectures. Ideologies and everything that is not science will be omitted.
The chair will thus deal with nutrition, acupuncture and probiotics. The teaching activities will be in the medical faculty at Tuebingen, while the research will be located at the Robert-Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart. The funds for the first 5 years – 1.84 million Euro – will come from the Robert-Bosch Foundation; thereafter they will be provided by the government of the county.
So-called gentle or natural therapies cannot cure serious diseases on their own, but as adjuvant treatments they can be helful, for instance, in alleviating the adverse effects of chemotherapy. There are only few studies on this, and the new chair will increase patient safety and facilitate the reimbursement of these treatments by health insurances.
Local anthroposophy manufacturers like Wala welcomed the move stating it would be in accordance with the wishes of many patients and doctors. They also hope that the move will bring light in the current critical debate about homeopathy. A spokesperson of Weleda added that they ‘note with surprise that time-tested therapies like homeopathy are being discredited. Therefore, it is laudable that research and education in this realm will be extended. The majority of the public want complementary medicine and need doctors who are also university-trained.’
Baden-Wurttemberg aims for a leading role in researching complementary medicine. Thus far, chairs of complementary medicine existed only at the universities of Duisburg-Essen, Rostock und Witten/Herdecke as well as three professorships at the Charité in Berlin.
END OF MY SUMMARY
As I have occupied a chair of complementary medicine for 19 years, I am tempted to add a few points here.
- In principle, a new chair can be a good thing.
- The name of the chair is odd, to say the least.
- As the dean of the Tuebingen medical school pointed out, it has to be based on science. But how do they define science?
- Where exactly does the sponsor, the Robert-Bosch Stiftung, stand on alternative medicine. Do they have a track-record of being impractical and scientific?
- In order to prevent this becoming a unrealistic prospect, it is essential that the new chair needs to fall into the hands of a scientist with a proven track record of critical thinking.
- Rigorous scientist with a proven track record of critical thinking are very rare in the realm of alternative medicine.
- The ridiculous comments by Wala and Weleda, both local firms with considerable local influence, sound ominous and let me suspect that proponents of alternative medicine aim to exert their influence on the new chair.
- The above-voiced notion that the new chair is to facilitate the reimbursement of alternative treatments by the health insurances seems even more ominous. Proper research has to be objective and could, depending on its findings, have the opposite effect. To direct it in this way seems to determine its results before the research has started.
- I miss a firm commitment to medical ethics, to the principles of EBM, and to protecting the independence of the new chair.
Thus, I do harbour significant anxieties about this new chair. It is in danger of becoming a chair of promoting pseudoscience. I hope the dean of the Tuebingen medical school might read these lines.
I herewith offer him all the help I can muster in keeping pseudoscience out of this initiative, in defining the remit of the chair and, crucially, in finding the right individual for doing the job.
The UK ‘COLLEGE OF MEDICINE’ has recently (and very quietly) renamed itself; it now is THE COLLEGE OF MEDICINE AND INTEGRATED HEALTH (COMIH). This takes it closer to its original intentions of being the successor of the PRINCE OF WALES FOUNDATION FOR INTEGRATED MEDICINE (PWFIM), the organisation that had to be shut down amidst charges of fraud and money-laundering. Originally, the name of COMIH was to be COLLEGE OF INTEGRATED HEALTH (as opposed to disintegrated health?, I asked myself at the time).
Under the leadership of Dr Michael Dixon, OBE (who also led the PWFIM into its demise), the COMIH pursues all sots of activities. One of them seems to be publishing ‘cutting-edge’ articles.
START OF QUOTE
Professor Sonia Williams … explores how integrated oral health needs to consider the whole body, not just the dentition…
Complementary and alternative approaches can also be considered as complementary to ‘mainstream’ care, with varying levels of evidence cited for their benefit.
Dental hypnosis (British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis) can help support patients including those with dental phobia or help to reduce pain experience during treatment.
Acupuncture in dentistry (British Society of Dental Acupuncture) can, for instance, assist with pain relief and allay the tendency to vomit during dental care. There is also a British Homeopathic Dental Association.
For the UK Faculty of General Dental Practitioners, holistic dentistry refers to strengthening the link between general and oral health.
For some others, the term also represents an ‘alternative’ form of dentistry, which may concern itself with the avoidance and elimination of ‘toxic’ filling materials, perceived potential harm from fluoride and root canal treatments and with treating dental malocclusion to put patients back in ‘balance’.
In the USA, there is a Holistic Dental Association, while in the UK, there is the British Society for Mercury-free Dentistry. Unfortunately the evidence base for many of these procedures is weak.
Nevertheless, pressure to avoid mercury in dental restorative materials is becoming mainstream.
In summary, integrated health and care in dentistry can mean different things to different people. The weight of evidence supports the contention that the mouth is an integral part of the body and that attention to the one without taking account of the other can have adverse consequences.
END OF QUOTE
Do I get this right? ‘Holistic dentistry’ in the UK means the recognition that my mouth belongs to my body, and the adoption of a few dubious treatments with w ‘weak’ evidence base?
Well, isn’t this just great? I had no idea that my mouth belongs to my body. And clearly the non-holistic dentists in the UK are oblivious to this fact as well. I am sooooooo glad we got this cleared up.
And what about the alternative treatments used by holistic dentists?
The British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis (Scotland) inform us on their website that a trained medical and dental hypnotherapists can help you to deal with a large variety of challenges that you face in your everyday life e.g.
|Anxiety & Stress||Smoking Cessation|
|Weight Problems||Psychosexual Disorders|
|Irritable Bowel||And many other conditions|
I hasten to add that, for most of these conditions, the evidence fails to support the claims.
The British Society of Dental Acupuncture claim on their website that the typical conditions that may be helped by acupuncture are:
- TMJ (jaw joint) problems
- Facial pain
- Muscle spasm in the head and neck
- Stress headaches & Migraine
- Rhinitis & sinusitis
- Dry mouth problems
- Post-operative pain
- Dental anxiety
I hasten to add that, for most of these conditions, the evidence fails to support the claims.
The British Homeopathic Dental Association claim on their website that studies have shown improved bone healing around implants with Symphytum and reduced discomfort and improved healing time with ulcers and beneficial in oral lichen planus.
I hasten to add that none of these claims are not supported by sound evidence.
The COMIH article is entitled “The mouth reflects whole body health – but what does integrated care mean for dentists?’ So, what does it mean? Judging from this article, it means an amalgam (pun intended) of platitudes, bogus claims and outright nonsense.
Pity that they did not change their name to College of Medicine and Integrated Care – I could have abbreviated it as COMIC!
In recent days, journalists across the world had a field day (mis)reporting that doctors practising integrative medicine were doing something positive after all. I think that the paper shows nothing of the kind – but please judge for yourself.
The authors of this article wanted to determine differences in antibiotic prescription rates between conventional General Practice (GP) surgeries and GP surgeries employing general practitioners (GPs) additionally trained in integrative medicine (IM) or complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) (referred to as IM GPs) working within National Health Service (NHS) England.
They conducted a retrospective study on antibiotic prescription rates per STAR-PU (Specific Therapeutic group Age–sex weighting Related Prescribing Unit) using NHS Digital data over 2016. Publicly available data were used on prevalence of relevant comorbidities, demographics of patient populations and deprivation scores. setting Primary Care. Participants were 7283 NHS GP surgeries in England. The association between IM GPs and antibiotic prescribing rates per STAR-PU with the number of antibiotic prescriptions (total, and for respiratory tract infection (RTI) and urinary tract infection (UTI) separately) as outcome. results IM GP surgeries (n=9) were comparable to conventional GP surgeries in terms of list sizes, demographics, deprivation scores and comorbidity prevalence.
Statistically significant fewer total antibiotics were prescribed at NHS IM GP surgeries compared with conventional NHS GP surgeries. In contrast, the number of antibiotics prescribed for UTI were similar between both practices.
The authors concluded that NHS England GP surgeries employing GPs additionally trained in IM/CAM have lower antibiotic prescribing rates. Accessibility of IM/CAM within NHS England primary care is limited. Main study limitation is the lack of consultation data. Future research should include the differences in consultation behaviour of patients self-selecting to consult an IM GP or conventional surgery, and its effect on antibiotic prescription. Additional treatment strategies for common primary care infections used by IM GPs should be explored to see if they could be used to assist in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.
The study was flimsy to say the least:
- It was retrospective and is therefore open to no end of confounders.
- There were only 9 surgeries in the IM group.
Moreover, the results were far from impressive. The differences in antibiotic prescribing between the two groups of GP surgeries were minimal or non-existent. Finally, the study was financed via an unrestricted grant of WALA Heilmittel GmbH, Germany (“approx. 900 different remedies conforming to the anthroposophic understanding of man and nature”) and its senior author has a long track record of publishing papers promotional for anthroposophic medicine.
Such pseudo-research seems to be popular in the realm of CAM, and I have commented before on similarly futile projects. The comparison, I sometimes use is that of a Hamburger restaurant:
Employees by a large Hamburger chain set out to study the association between utilization of Hamburger restaurant services and vegetarianism. The authors used a retrospective cohort design. The study population comprised New Hampshire residents aged 18-99 years, who had entered the premises of a Hamburger restaurant within 90 days for a primary purpose of eating. The authors excluded subjects with a diagnosis of cancer. They measured the likelihood of vegetarianism among recipients of services delivered by Hamburger restaurants compared with a control group of individuals not using meat-dispensing facilities. They also compared the cohorts with regard to the money spent in Hamburger restaurants. The adjusted likelihood of being a vegetarian was 55% lower among the experimental group compared to controls. The average money spent per person in Hamburger restaurants were also significantly lower among the Hamburger group.
To me, it is obvious that such analyses must produce a seemingly favourable result for CAM. In the present case, there are several reasons for this:
- GPs who volunteer to be trained in CAM tend to be in favour of ‘natural’ treatments and oppose synthetic drugs such as antibiotics.
- Education in CAM would only re-inforce this notion.
- Similarly, patients electing to consult IM GPs tend to be in favour of ‘natural’ treatments and oppose synthetic drugs such as antibiotics.
- Such patients might be less severely ill that the rest of the patient population (the data from the present study do in fact imply this to be true).
- These phenomena work in concert to generate less antibiotic prescribing in the IM group.
In the final analysis, all this finding amounts to is a self-fulfilling prophecy: grocery shops sell less meat than butchers! You don’t believe me? Perhaps you need to read a previous post then; it concluded that physicians practicing integrative medicine (the 80% who did not respond to the survey were most likely even worse) not only use and promote much quackery, they also tend to endanger public health by their bizarre, irrational and irresponsible attitudes towards vaccination.
What is upsetting with the present paper, in my view, are the facts that:
- a reputable journal published this junk,
- the international press has a field-day reporting this study implying that CAM is a good thing.
The fact is that it shows nothing of the kind. Imagine we send GPs on a course where they are taught to treat all their patients with blood-letting. This too would result in less prescription of antibiotics, wouldn’t it? But would it be a good thing? Of course not!
True, we prescribe too much antibiotics. Nobody doubts that. And nobody doubts that it is a big problem. The solution to this problem is not more CAM, but less antibiotics. To realise the solution we do not need to teach GPs CAM but we need to remind them of the principles of evidence-based practice. And the two are clearly not the same; in fact, they are opposites.
The Royal London Homeopathic Hospital, recently re-named as the Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RLHIM), has been one of the most influential homeopathic hospitals in the world. It was founded in 1849 by Dr Frederick Foster Hervey Quin. In 1895, a new and larger hospital was opened on its present site in Great Ormond Street. Many famous homeopaths have worked there, including Robert Ellis Dudgeon, John Henry Clarke, James Compton Burnett, Edward Bach, Charles E Wheeler, James Kenyon, Margaret Tyler, Douglas Borland, Sir John Weir, Donald Foubister, Margery Blackie and Ralph Twentyman. In 1920, the hospital received Royal Patronage from the Duke of York, later King George VI, who also became its president in 1924, and in 1936, the Hospital was honoured by the Patronage of His Majesty the King gaining its ‘Royal’ prefix in 1947. Today, Queen Elizabeth II is the Hospital’s Patron.
On 18 June 1972, 16 of the hospital’s doctors and colleagues on board were killed in a plane crash. During the following years, several reductions in size and income took place. From 2002 to 2005, the hospital underwent a £20m redevelopment and, in 2010, its name was changed to Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine.
The hospital just published a new brochure for patients. It contains interesting information and therefore, I will quote directly from this document.
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The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RLHIM) is part of University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and accepts all NHS referrals. GP referrals are by letter or via Choose and Book. Patients can also be referred by their NHS hospital consultant.
NHS Choices provides information and an opportunity to provide feedback about our service at www.nhs.uk
The General Medicine Service is led by three consultant physicians. The team also includes other doctors and nurses, a dietitian, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist and a psychotherapist. The service sees patients with chronic and complex conditions. The team is trained in many areas of complementary medicine. These are used alongside orthodox treatment, allowing them to offer a fully integrated General Medicine service. The General Medicine Service offers a full range of diagnostic tests as well as a variety of treatments and advice on orthodox treatment.
From 3rd April 2018, The Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine (RLHIM) will no longer be providing NHS-funded homeopathic remedies for any patients as part of their routine care. This is in line with the funding policy of Camden Clinical Commissioning Groups, the local NHS body that plans and pays for healthcare services in this area.
Should you choose you will be able to purchase these medicines from the RLHIM pharmacy, while other homeopathic pharmacies may also be able to supply the medicines. You can speak to your clinician or the RLHIM pharmacy at your next visit about this…
Conditions commonly seen include:
- Recurrent infections, such as colds, sore throats, cystitis, thrush, chest infections and bacterial infections
- Some persistent symptoms where tests have not revealed a serious underlying disorder
- Asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Digestive disorders, for example acid reflux, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease
- Endocrine (glandular) disorders such as under-active thyroid
- Type II diabetes
- Some types of heart disease, high blood pressure and palpitations (requiring no orthodox treatment)
- Chronic headache such as migraine or tension-type headache
- Side effects of prescribed medications
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Clearly, the big news here is that the RLHIM has been forced to stop providing NHS-funded homeopathics. This could be indicative of what might soon happen throughout NHS England.
But there are other items that I find remarkable: “The General Medicine Service offers a full range of diagnostic tests as well as a variety of treatments and advice on orthodox treatment.” Call me a nit-picker, but this is not INTEGRATED! Integrated medicine means employing both alternative as well as conventional therapies in parallel. The best of BOTH worlds and all that…
In the same vein is the statement that they treat “some types of heart disease, high blood pressure and palpitations (requiring no orthodox treatment)” I am sorry, but this again is not INTEGRATED MEDICINE! I ask myself, is it ethical to mislead patients, colleagues, NHS officials and everyone else pretending to deliver ‘integrated medicine’, while in fact all they seem to offer is ‘alternative medicine’?
The RLHIM has recently dropped the term HOMEOPATHY from its name. Soon it might have to also abandon the term INTEGRATED, because it does not seem to be able to provide a safe level of conventional medicine.
How shall we then call it?
Doctor Jonas is an important figure head of US ‘Integrative Medicine’. As we discussed in a recent post, he pointed out that many US hospital doctors fail to answer the following questions relating to their chronically ill patients:
- “What matters most for this patient?
- What is the person’s lifestyle like – their nutrition, movement and sleep?
- How does that patient manage their stress?
- Does that patient have a good support system at home?
- What supplements does that patient take? Has your patient seen any CAM practitioners to cope with their condition?
- Why do they want to get well?”
In my previous post, I tried to explain that this is embarrassing – embarrassing for doctor Jonas, I meant.
But Jonas also claims that most US hospital doctors he addressed during his lecture tour, were unable to answer these questions. And that might be embarrassing not for Jonas, but for those physicians. Let’s consider this possibility for a moment.
The way I see it, the doctors in question might not have answered to Jonas for the following reasons:
- They felt that the questions were simply too daft to bother.
- They were too polite to tell Jonas what they think of him.
- They were truly unable to answer the questions.
Here I want to briefly deal with the last category.
I do not doubt for a minute that this category of physician exists. They have little interest in what matters to their patients, don’t ask the right questions, have no time and even less empathy and compassion. Yet nobody can deny that medical school teaches all of these qualities, skills and attitudes. And there is no doubt that good doctors practice them; it is not a choice but an ethical and moral imperative.
So, what went wrong with these doctors?
Probably lots, and I cannot begin to tell you what exactly. However, I can easily tell you that those doctors are not practicing good medicine. Similarly, I can tell you what these doctors ought to do: re-train and be reminded of what medical school has once taught them.
And what about those physicians who advocate ‘integrated medicine’ reminding everyone of the core values of healthcare?
Aren’t they fabulous?
No, they aren’t!
Because they too have evidently forgotten what they should have learnt at medical school. If not, they would not be able to pretend that ‘integrative medicine’ has a monopoly on core values of all healthcare. Their messages are akin to a new ‘school’ of ship-building insisting that it is beneficial to build ships that do not leak.
What I am trying to say in my clumsy way is this:
DOCTORS WHO PRACTICE BAD MEDICINE SHOULD RE-TRAIN – TOGETHER WITH THOSE PHYSICIANS WHO ADVOCATE ‘INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE‘, BECAUSE THEY BOTH HAVE FORGOTTEN WHAT THEY LEARNT AT MEDICAL SCHOOL.