I had the rare pleasure to give an interview for the ‘Frankfurter Allgemeine’. As it was, of course, in German, I took the liberty to translate it for my non-German speaking readers:
You have researched so-called alternative medicine over several decades, including homeopathy. What is your conclusion?
We are talking about far more than 400 methods – to draw one conclusion about all of them
is completely impossible. Except perhaps for this one: if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Does this apply to homeopathy?
Highly diluted homeopathic remedies are popular because they have no side-effects. But there is also no effect. They are touted as a panacea. This is certainly not the case, on the contrary, they are
ineffective. And any therapy that is ineffective and promoted as a panacea is also dangerous.
How do you explain the fact that so many people swear by homeopathy?
There are several reasons for this. In Germany, homeopathy has an unbroken tradition, it was, for instance, promoted by the Nazis and later in the Federal Republic of Germany. It has a reputation for being gentle and effective. It might be gentle, but it is certainly not effective. It is also supported by lobby groups such as the manufacturers. And most people who use it don’t even understand what it actually is.
In any case, the placebo effect helps. What’s so bad about that??
Nothing at all, on the contrary: it is to be advocated. When we talk about placebo effects, we subsume many things under this umbrella that do not actually belong to it, such as the extensive, empathetic conversation that homeopaths often have with their patients. Besides, a common cold goes away whether you treat it or not. If you then use homeopathy, you can easily get the impression that it worked. Every good, empathetic doctor tries to maximize the placebo effect. To put it bluntly: you don’t need a placebo to generate a placebo effect. Patients also benefit from it when I give an effective remedy with empathy. In addition they benefit from the specific effect of my therapy, which should make up the lion’s share of the therapeutic response. If I withhold the most important thing I mistreat my patient.
But there are diseases for which there are no good remedies.
I often hear that argument. But there is practically always something we can do that at least
improves symptoms. Otherwise you should also say that instead of lying and recommending homeopathy – and thinking that, although there is nothing in it and it doesn’t work, but the patient, being an idiot, should take it nevertheless. It is unethical to use placebos as much as it is to use homeopathy.
Neurophysiologically, the placebo effect is becoming better and better understood.
The Italian neuroscientist Fabrizio Benedetti in particular has done very good work. But he also warns that this does not justify the use of homeopathy, for example.
Are there any studies on whether the placebo effect of homeopathy with its esoteric superstructure is greater than that giving just a piece of sugar?
There are analyses of what makes a particularly effective placebo. From this, we can learn that effective therapies in evidence-based medicine must be applied with empathy and sufficient time in order to maximize the ever-present placebo effect. So-called alternative medicine often does this quite well, and we can learn something from it. But the reason is that it often has nothing else. Homeopaths are a serious danger because they see homeopathy as a panacea. If someone has homeopathically treated their cold “successfully” for years and then gets cancer, they might think of turning to homeopathy for their cancer. It sounds crazy, but many homeopaths do offer cancer treatments on the internet, for instance. That sends shivers down my spine.
How should doctors and pharmacists react to the demand for homeopathic remedies?
Pharmacists are not primarily salespeople, they are a medical profession – they have to adhere to ethical guidelines. In this respect, evidence-based information of their clients/patients is very important.
Thomas Benkert, President of the German Federal Chamber of Pharmacists, has stated that he would not be able to stop giving advice if he always had to explain the lack of proof of efficacy.
He should perhaps read up on what his ethical duty to patients is.
What if doctors or pharmacists themselves believe in the effect?
Belief should not play a role, but evidence should.
Are you pleased with Lauterbach’s plan to no longer reimburse homeopathy?
I think it’s a shame that he justifies it by saying it’s ineffective. That is true. But the justification should be that it’s esoteric nonsense and therefore ineffective – and dangerous.
In the end, the Bundestag will decide.
I think Lauterbach has a good chance because things have started to move. Medical associations in Germany have spoken out against the additional designation of homeopathy, for example, and overall the wind has changed considerably.
What is it like in the UK, where you live?
The UK healthcare system, NHS, said goodbye to reimbursement of homeopathy about five years ago, even before France. The pharmacists’ association has distanced itself very clearly from homeopathy. However, most pharmacists still sell the remedies and many continue to support them.
You have also had disputes with the current head of state, King Charles. How did that come about?
A few years ago, he commissioned a paper claiming that so-called alternative medicine could save the British health service a lot of money. I protested against this – Charles accused me of leaking it to The Times before it was published. My university launched an investigation, which eventually found me innocent, but it led to the demise of my department. That caused me to retire two years early.
So Charles managed to close down the only research unit in the world that conducted critical and systematic research into so-called alternative medicine. Most researchers in this field only want to confirm their own prejudices and not disprove hypotheses. This is a serious misunderstanding of how science works. If someone reports only positive results for their favorite therapy in all conditions, something is wrong.
Some people say that homeopathy should not be researched because nothing positive can come out of it anyway.
There are certainly some SCAMs that are so nonsensical that they should not be researched, as is currently the case with homeopathy. I put it this way because I have researched homeopathy myself and, from my point of view, the situation was not so crystal clear 30 years ago.
Would you say that you have approached the matter with a sufficiently open mind?
No one can be completely unbiased. That’s why it’s important to do science properly, then you minimize bias as much as possible. When I took up my position at Exeter in 1993, I was perhaps somewhat biased towards homeopathy in a positive sense, because I had learned and used it myself, as well as other alternative medicine methods. The fact that the results then turned out to be negative in the vast majority of cases initially depressed me. But I have to live with that.
Every researcher prefers positive results, also because they are easier to publish. It was clear to me that, if I had succeeded in proving homeopathy right, I wouldn’t get one Nobel Prize, but two. Who wouldn’t want that?
(The interview was conducted by Hinnerk Feldwisch-Drentrup.)
I just found this on ‘X’ (formerly Twitter):
We’re delighted to announce the launch of the #BeyondPills All Parliamentary Group in Westminster. Chaired by Danny Kruger MP and co-chaired by Lord Crisp, this new body aims to tackle #overreliance on pills, reducing the number of unnecessary and inappropriate prescriptions.
It turns out that I did not study the website of College of Quackery and Integrated Health as regualarly as I should have. Because there, the launch had been announced some time ago under the title ‘Beyond Pills All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) launches to stop over-prescribing‘:
Now, in December 2023, we have an exciting development to report: the launch of the Beyond Pills All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG), in which the Beyond Pills Campaign joins forces with the former APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence. We’re delighted to announce that the APPG’s former Chair, Danny Kruger MP, joins the new Beyond Pills APPG as Chair.
Danny Kruger said of the launch: ‘There is a natural synergy with our objectives and the APPG for Prescribed Drug Dependence is a great supporter of social prescribing, which we feel can make a valuable contribution to addressing this public and personal health crisis, both in terms of helping to prevent overprescribing and also to treating people who are suffering from the debilitating symptoms of dependence.’
The Beyond Pills Campaign now becomes a founder member of the Beyond Pills Alliance (BPA), alongside the Council for Evidence-based Psychiatry (CEP-UK). Setting up the BPA will, in the near future, give us the opportunity to invite other organisations with a similar goal of reducing overreliance on pills to join the Alliance.
The Beyond Pills APPG has the following Mission and Objectives:
MISSION: To move UK healthcare beyond an over-reliance on pills by combining social prescribing, lifestyle medicine, psychosocial interventions and safe deprescribing. As well as reducing unnecessary and inappropriate prescribing, this integrated approach will improve outcomes and reduce health inequalities.
Elsewhere, Dr. Michael Dixon, who seems to be in charge of the ‘beyond pills’ activities, explained: ‘The Beyond Pills All Party Parliamentary Group heralds a sea change in public perception and medical practice from “a pill for every ill” to recognising that there is so much that we can do for ourselves which will not only help us to heal but also stop us getting ill in the first place.’
This made me think – and eventually, I respond by writing this short ‘open letter’ to the group:
please let me begin by stating that I am all in favour of reducing over-prescribing. Who isn’t? The clue is in the name ‘over– prescribing’! Yet, at the same time, I would like to alert you to the fact that your group’s name ‘beyond pills‘ is of questionable merit.
It implies that conventional medicine consits only or predominantly of prescribing pills. My own career as a clinician – long ago now – was in physical medicine and rehabilitation, a discipline that certainly does not rely on pills. Many other areas of healthcare also do not exclusively rely on pills; take surgery or psychosomatic medicine, for instance. As for the rest of the physicians, they will, no doubt, have learnt in medical school that over-prescribing is wrong, dangerous, and not evidence-based.
By putting ‘beyond pills’ on your banner, you either disclose your ignorance of the facts, or you deliberately undermine trust in conventional medicine. Some less benevolent than I might even get the impression that you employ the ‘strawman fallacy‘ in order to push a hidden agenda.
I hope these lines might motivate you to reconsider and alter the irresponsible name of your initiative – how about ‘evidence-based medicine’?
In case anyone wants to use my ‘open letter’ on other sites or publication, I herewith grant permission to reproduce it.
Mushrooms are somewhat neglected in medical research, I often feel. This systematic review focused on clinical studies testing the effectiveness of mushrooms in cancer care. A total of 39 met the authors’ inclusion criteria. The studies included 12 different mushroom preparations. Some of the findings were encouraging:
- A survival benefit was reported using Huaier granules (Trametes robiniophila Murr) in 2 hepatocellular carcinoma studies and 1 breast cancer study.
- A survival benefit was also found in 4 gastric cancer studies using polysaccharide-K (polysaccharide-Kureha; PSK) as an adjuvant therapy.
- Eleven studies reported a positive immunological response.
- Quality-of-life (QoL) improvement and/or reduced symptom burden was reported in 14 studies using various mushroom supplements.
- Most studies reported adverse effects of grade 2 or lower, mainly nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and muscle pain.
The authors caution that limitations included small sample size and not using randomized controlled trial design. Many of the reviewed studies were observational. Most showed favorable effects of mushroom supplements in reducing the toxicity of chemotherapy, improving QoL, favorable cytokine response, and possibly better clinical outcomes.
The authors concluded that the evidence is inconclusive to recommend the routine use of mushrooms for cancer patients. More trials are needed to explore mushroom use during and after cancer treatment.
The use of mushrooms for medicinal purposes has a long history in many cultures. Some mushrooms are known to be highly poisonous, some have hallucinogenic effects, and some are assumed to have pharmacological effects that have therapeutic potential. Some mushrooms possess pharmacologic properties such as anti-tumour, immunomodulating, antioxidant, cardiovascular, anti-hypercholesterolemic, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal, detoxification, hepatoprotective, and anti-diabetic effects.
Many modern medicines were derived from fungi. The best-known example is penicillin; others include several cancer drugs, statins and immunosuppressants. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, numerous herbal mixtures contain mushrooms; examples are reishi, maitake and shiitake which are all assumed to have anti-cancer properties.
As the review authors point out, there is a paucity of clinical trials testing the effectiveness of mushrooms, and the existing studies tend to be of poor quality. At present, most of our knowledge comes from traditional use or test-tube studies. The adverse effects depend on the specific mushroom in question and, can in some instances, be serious.
Considering the potential and the complexity of mycomedicine, I find it surprising to not see much more research into this subject.
Many community pharmacies in Switzerland provide so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) approaches in addition to providing biomedical services, and a few pharmacies specialise in SCAM. A common perception is that SCAM providers are sceptical towards, or opposed to, vaccination.
The key objectives of this study were to examine the potential roles of biomedically oriented and SCAM-specialised pharmacists regarding vaccine counselling and to better understand the association between vaccine hesitancy and SCAM. The researchers thus conducted semistructured, qualitative interviews. Transcripts were coded and analysed using thematic analysis. Interview questions were related to:
- type of pharmaceutical care practised,
- views on SCAM and biomedicine,
- perspectives on vaccination,
- descriptions of vaccination consultations in community pharmacies,
- and views on vaccination rates.
Qualitative interviews in three language regions of Switzerland (German, French and Italian). A total of 18 pharmacists (N=11 biomedically oriented, N=7 SCAM specialised) were invited.
Pharmacist participants expressed generally positive attitudes towards vaccination. Biomedically oriented pharmacists mainly advised customers to follow official vaccination recommendations but rarely counselled vaccine-hesitant customers. SCAM-specialised pharmacists were not as enthusiastic advocates of the Swiss vaccination recommendations as the biomedically oriented pharmacists. Rather, they considered that each customer should receive individualised, nuanced vaccination advice so that customers can reach their own decisions. SCAM-specialised pharmacists described how mothers in particular preferred getting a second opinion when they felt insufficiently advised by biomedically oriented paediatricians.
The authors concluded that vaccination counselling in community pharmacies represents an additional option to customers who have unmet vaccination consultation needs and who seek reassurance from healthcare professionals (HCPs) other than physicians. By providing individualised vaccination counselling to vaccine-hesitant customers, SCAM-specialised pharmacists are likely meeting specific needs of vaccine-hesitant customers. As such, research and implementation efforts should more systematically involve pharmacists as important actors in vaccination provision. SCAM-specialised pharmacists particularly should not be neglected as they are important HCPs who counsel vaccine-hesitant customers.
I must say that I find these conclusions odd, perhaps even wrong. Here are my reasons:
- Pharmacists are well-trained healthcare professionals.
- As such, they have ethical obligations towards their customers.
- These obligations include behaving in a way that is optimal for the health of their customers and follows the rules of evidence-based practice.
- This includes explaining to vaccine-hesitant customers why the recommended vaccinations make sense and advising them to follow the official vaccination guidelines.
- SCAM-specialised pharmacist should ask themselves whether offering SCAM is in line with their ethical obligation to provide optimal care and advice to their customers.
I fear that this paper suggests that SCAM-specialised pharmacists might be a danger to the health of their customers. If that is confirmed, they should consider re-training, in my view.
It has been reported, at the German Medical Congress (DÄT) a year ago, that it was decided to delete the additional title of homeopathy from the model further training regulations of the German Medical Association. And Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) tweeted applause: “Homeopathy has no place in modern medicine.”
Now the ‘ Bundesverband der Pharmaziestudierenden in Deutschland’ (BPhD), the German Pharmacists Organization, even goes a few steps further. The position paper distinguishes between evidence-based medicine (EBM) and unproven therapeutic methods. According to the BPhD, these include homeopathy, but also anthroposophy, traditional Chinese medicine, and traditional medicines.
Among other things, the BPhD is disturbed by the way homeopathy presents itself as an alternative, because an alternative means “a choice between two equally suitable possibilities” to achieve a goal, and this is not the case. Compared to evidence-based medicine (EBM), homeopathy is a “constructed, illusory concept” and “the principles of homeopathic teachings and principles” are to be rejected as “unscientific”. According to the BPhD, a designation as “alternative” for advertising purposes should no longer be allowed.
They would also like to see a demarcation from naturopathy; the clear distinction between homeopathy and phytopharmacy has been lacking up to now. The advertising attribute “natural” should therefore also be banned in order to prevent equalization in advertising, the position paper states.
Like doctors, pharmacy students point to the lack of proof of efficacy beyond the placebo effect. According to the BPhD, the dogma WER HEILT HAT RECHT, “he who heals is right” would “disregard all processes that work towards healing and glorify the result”. The “gold standard” of EBM – randomized, double-blind studies with placebo control – should in future also have to be fulfilled by homeopathic medicines, experience reports are not sufficient, it continues.
Homeopathic medicines are only registered as medicinal products without indication, which requires neither proof of efficacy nor clinical studies. The BPhD, therefore, demands that a warning be placed on the preparations that they have “no proven efficacy beyond the placebo effect”. Up to now, without this warning, patients have been “deceived about the efficacy”, and there is an “urgent need for detailed public information and counseling on homeopathy since its unjustified reputation poses a danger of not seeking treatment”. The BPhD also demands that the status of homeopathic medicines is withdrawn and that the pharmacy obligation for the preparations is abolished…
“In the health professions, no trivialization of unproven therapeutic procedures should be tolerated, as inadequate counseling or ignorance poses a danger to patients,” the BPhD said.
When I first read this article – I translated and shortened it for those who cannot read German- I was truly dazzled. These are the suggestions that I have been making for around 20 years now, not specifically for Germany but for pharmacists in general. For many years, the Germans seemed the least likely to agree with me. But now they seem to be ahead of everyone else in Europe!
I suspect and hope that our recent initiative might have something to do with it.
Let’s hope that the pharmacists of other countries follow the German example.
I have featured the ‘Münster Circle‘ before. The reason why I do it again today is that we have just published a new Memorandum entitled HOMEOPATHY IN THE PHARMACY. Here is its summary which I translated into English:
Due to questionable regulations in German pharmaceutical law, homeopathic medicines can be given the status of a medicinal product without having to provide valid proof of efficacy. As medicinal products, these preparations may then only be dispensed to customers in pharmacies, which, however, creates an obligation to also supply them on request or prescription. Many pharmacies go far beyond this and advertise homeopathic medicines as a useful therapy option by advertising them prominently in the window. In addition, customers are recommended to use them, corresponding lecture events are supported, and much more. Often, homeopathic preparations are even produced according to pharmacies’ own formulations and marketed under their own name.
For pharmacists and pharmaceutical technical assistants (PTAs) to perform their important task in the proper supply of medicines to the population, they must have successfully completed a scientific study of pharmacy or state-regulated training. This is to ensure that customers are informed and properly advised about their medicines according to the current state of knowledge.
After successfully completing their training or studies, PTAs and pharmacists are undoubtedly able to recognize that homeopathic medicines cannot be effective beyond placebo. They do not have any significant content of active ingredients – if, for example, the high potencies that are considered to be particularly effective still have any active ingredients at all. Consequently, pharmacists and PTAs act against their better knowledge to the detriment of their customers if they create the impression through their actions that homeopathic medicines represent a sensible therapeutic option and customers are thereby encouraged to buy and use them.
Although homeopathics have no potential for direct harm in the absence of relevant amounts of pharmacologically active substances in the preparations, their distribution should nevertheless be viewed critically. The use of homeopathy can mean losing valuable time and delaying the start of effective therapy. It is often accompanied by criticism, even rejection of scientifically oriented medicine and public health, for example when homeopathy is presented as the antithesis to a threatening “pharmaceutical mafia”.
The Münster Circle appeals to pharmacists and PTAs to stop advertising homeopathic medicines as an effective therapeutic option, to stop producing and marketing them themselves, and to advise their customers that homeopathic preparations are not more effective than placebo. The professional organizations of pharmacists and other providers of further training are called upon to no longer offer courses on homeopathy – except for convincingly refuting the often abstruse claims of the supporters.
I have pointed out for at least 20 years now that pharmacists have an ethical duty toward their clients. And this duty does not involve misleading them and selling them useless homeopathic remedies. On the contrary, it involves advising them on the basis of the best existing evidence.
When I started writing and talking about this, pharmacists seemed quite interested (or perhaps just amused?). They invited me to give lectures, I published an entire series of articles in the PJ, etc. Of late, they seem to be fed up with hearing this message and the invitations have well and truly stopped.
They may be frustrated with my message – but not as frustrated as I am with their inertia. In my view, it is nothing short of a scandal that homeopathic remedies and similarly bogus treatments still feature in pharmacies across the globe.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued warning letters to seven companies for illegally selling dietary supplements that claim to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent cardiovascular disease or related conditions, such as atherosclerosis, stroke or heart failure, in violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act). The FDA is urging consumers not to use these or similar products because they have not been evaluated by the FDA to be safe or effective for their intended use and may be harmful.
The warning letters were issued to:
- Essential Elements (Scale Media Inc.);
- Calroy Health Sciences LLC;
- BergaMet North America LLC;
- Healthy Trends Worldwide LLC (Golden After 50);
- Chambers’ Apothecary;
- Anabolic Laboratories, LLC.
“Given that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., it’s important that the FDA protect the public from products and companies that make unlawful claims to treat it. Dietary supplements that claim to cure, treat, mitigate or prevent cardiovascular disease and related conditions could potentially harm consumers who use these products instead of seeking safe and effective FDA-approved treatments from qualified health care providers,” said Cara Welch, Ph.D., director of the Office of Dietary Supplement Programs in the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “We encourage consumers to remain vigilant when shopping online or in stores to avoid purchasing products that could put their health at risk.”
Under the FD&C Act, products intended to diagnose, cure, treat, mitigate or prevent disease are drugs and are subject to the requirements that apply to drugs, even if they are labeled as dietary supplements. Unlike drugs approved by the FDA, the agency has not evaluated whether the unapproved products subject to the warning letters announced today are effective for their intended use, what the proper dosage might be, how they could interact with FDA-approved drugs or other substances, or whether they have dangerous side effects or other safety concerns.
The FDA advises consumers to talk to their doctor, pharmacist or other health care provider before deciding to purchase or use any dietary supplement or drug. Some supplements might interact with medicines or other supplements. Health care providers will work with patients to determine which treatment is the best option for their condition.
If a consumer thinks that a product might have caused a reaction or an illness, they should immediately stop using the product and contact their health care provider. The FDA encourages health care providers and consumers to report any adverse reactions associated with FDA-regulated products to the agency using MedWatch or the Safety Reporting Portal.
The FDA has requested responses from the companies within 15 working days stating how they will address the issues described in the warning letters or provide their reasoning and supporting information as to why they think the products are not in violation of the law. Failure to correct violations promptly may result in legal action, including product seizure and/or injunction.
It has been reported that the Regional Court of Dortmund has prohibited the manufacturer of the homeopathic cold remedy Meditonsin from advertising with false health claims. The court did not see sufficient evidence for the advertising claims.
The Consumer Advice Centre (VZ) of North Rhine-Westphalia issued a warning to the Meditonsin manufacturer (MEDICE Arzneimittel Pütter GmbH & Co.) for misleading advertising statements and sued them. The complaint was:
- that the advertising gave the false impression that an improvement in health could be expected with certainty after taking the product,
- that no side effects were to be expected,
- that the product was superior to “chemical-synthetic medicines”.
The Dortmund Regional Court was not convinced by a study referred to by the manufacturer. On its website, the manufacturer of Meditonsin presents the results of a “current, large-scale user study with more than 1,000 patients” under the heading “Proven efficacy & tolerability”. According to a pie chart, 90% of the patients were satisfied or very satisfied with the effect of Meditonsin.
However, according to the VZ, the study was only a “pharmacy-based observational study” with little scientific validity. Despite the lack of evidence, the manufacturer claimed that “the good efficacy and tolerability of Meditonsin® Drops could once again be impressively confirmed”. The Dortmund Regional Court, however, followed the VZ’s statement of grounds for action. “It is not allowed to advertise with statements that give the false impression that a successful treatment can be expected with certainty, as the advertisement for Meditonsin drops suggests,” emphasized Gesa Schölgens, head of “Faktencheck Gesundheitswerbung”, a joint project of the consumer centres of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate. According to the Therapeutic Products Advertising Act, this is prohibited.
The Dortmund Regional Court also found that consumers were misled by the advertising because it gave a false impression that no harmful side effects were to be expected when taking Meditonsin. The package leaflet of the drug listed several side effects. According to this, there could even be an initial worsening of the symptoms after taking the medicine.
According to the VZ, the alleged advantage of the “natural medicinal product” over “many chemical-synthetic medicinal products that only suppress the symptoms”, as presented by the manufacturer, is also inadmissible. This is because it is not permissible to advertise to consumers with claims that the effect is equivalent or superior to that of another medicinal product. This, too, was confirmed by the court.
In case you like to know more about the remedy, this is from its English language site:
Meditonsin consists of Aconitum, Atropinum Sulfuricum, Mercurius Cyanatus. Active ingredient is the part of the drug or medicine which is biologically active. This portion of the drug is responsible for the main action of the drug which is intended to cure or reduce the symptom or disease.
A review conducted in 2015 reported community pharmacists are willing to adopt a professional role in counselling consumers about the appropriate and safe use of so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) but faced multiple barriers in doing so. This current review aimed to update and extend these findings, by identifying studies published since 2015 that reported on pharmacists across any setting.
Eligible studies published between January 01, 2016, and December 31, 2021, were identified across 6 databases (PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, EMBASE, ScienceDirect and MEDLINE). A grounded theory approach was used to thematically synthesize the data extracted.
A total of 64studies representing pharmacists across 30 countries were included for review. The study designs varied and included:
- cross-sectional surveys (n = 36),
- qualitative studies (n = 14),
- pseudo-patient studies (n = 3).
Eight studies reported on practice and/or bioethical responsibilities and 19 studies documented factors that would enable pharmacists to fulfill these responsibilities, while 37 studies reported on both.
The authors concluded that these findings indicate research about pharmacists’ responsibilities associated with SCAM is evolving from gap analysis towards research that is proactive in advocating for change in multiple areas. These findings can be used to inform a consensus discussion among pharmacists and key stakeholders regarding a set of professional responsibilities that would serve in the development of: a clearly defined role and associated practice standards, and competency requirements that inform educational learning objectives for inclusion in undergraduate, post-graduate and continuing professional pharmacy education.
I am puzzled why so many researchers in this specific area seem to avoid clearer language plainly stating the essential, simple, and undeniable facts. I am equally puzzled why so few pharmacists speak out.
It is obvious that community pharmacists are firstly healthcare professionals and only secondly shopkeepers. As such, they have important professional and ethical duties. Foremost, they are obliged to inform their customers responsibly – and responsible means telling them about the evidence for or against the SCAM product they are about to purchase. This duty also entails that pharmacists must inform themselves about the best current evidence. In turn, this means they must stop tolerating the current plethora of under- or post-graduate SCAM courses that are not evidence-based.
As we have discussed ad nauseam on this blog, none of this is actually happening (except in very few laudable cases)!
By and large, pharmacists continue to go along with the double standards of a) evidence for conventional drugs and b) fairy tales for SCAM. In the interest of progress, patient safety, and public health, it is time that pharmacists wake up and remind themselves that they are not commercially orientated shopkeepers but ethical healthcare professionals.
The problems for homeopathy in Germany do not seem to stop. Recently, the German health minister announced that he will look at the issue of reimbursement of homeopathy. Now, an article in the Deutsche Apotheker Zeitung (German Journal for Pharmacists) critically discussed the question of the place of homeopathy in German pharmacies. At present, pharmacies are the only places that are allowed to sell homeopathic preparations. This undoubtedly gives them a veneer of respectability; many consumers seem to feel that, if homeopathic preparations are only available in pharmacies, they must be well-tested and effective.
But recently, more and more German pharmacists have been pointing out that homeopathy is ineffective nonsense. A journalist who had listened to the advanced training “Homeopathy Highlights” of the Westphalia-Lippe Chamber of Pharmacists, he subsequently confronted the Chamber with the controversial contents of this advanced training event. The Chamber then declared that it would “no longer offer any refresher seminars on the subject of homeopathy with immediate effect” and that the speaker would also no longer work for it.
And now, the Berlin Chamber of Pharmacists wants the pharmacy community to distance itself from homeopathy as a scientifically recognized and evidence-based drug therapy. With its motion, the Chamber wants to achieve that the title “Naturopathic Medicine and Homeopathy” of the training regulations is replaced by the title “Phytopharmacy and Naturopathy”. The justification states: “The permission to use the title ‘pharmacist for naturopathic treatment and homeopathy’ by the state chambers of pharmacists suggests that homeopathy is a scientifically recognized and evidence-based drug therapy”.
I think it is time that German pharmacists remind themselves that they are more than shopkeepers; they are healthcare professionals who have an ethical duty. I have discussed this issue often enough. If you are interested, here are a few of my posts on this subject:
- Pharmacists must advise customers that homeopathic remedies lack evidence
- “Pharmacists should not sell or dispense homeopathic products”
- German pharmacists fail their customers when advising them on homeopathy
- Pharmacists put themselves at risk by selling homeopathic remedies
- Pro and Contra: should UK community pharmacists sell homeopathic remedies?
- Pharmacists’ responsibilities vis a vis alternative medicine: the violation of healthcare ethics continues.
- It is “disappointing that some pharmacists are still stocking homeopathy products”
- Pharmacists: to sell quackery means you are quacks – or have I got that wrong?
- Pharmacists must use their professional judgement to prevent the supply of homeopathic remedies
It is high time that German pharmacists do the right thing!