A new study published today in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 1 confuses rather than clarifies the prescribing performance of GP practices where homeopathy is used to treat patients.
The authors have developed four “prescribing quality measures” that have not been used in any previously published work. These new measures appear not to have been validated (i.e. compared against other related measures to see if they give similar or congruent results). The paper gives no reference to other literature about this method, how it was developed or previous use.
The study did not include any measures of patient outcomes, so it doesn’t tell us how the use of homeopathy in English general practice correlates with patients doing well or badly, nor with how many drugs they use. Other research suggests doctors using complementary medicines, such as homeopathy, in primary care not only prescribe fewer conventional drugs while getting similar results, but also achieve overall cost savings of 20%. 2,3,4,5
The media coverage of this study has been based on a short, misleading press release issued before the paper was published, so that it was not possible to evaluate its quality. But now that it has been published anyone reading the actual paper will note that the authors conclude it is “unlikely that prescribing homeopathy causes poorer performance”.