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Homeopaths Win the Poll

Here's the article and poll in the BMJ: http://www.bmj.com/content/351/bmj.h3735

Homeopathy is a fine example of a nonsensical and unproven alternative medical approach that still has many adherents. I was scanning the Twitterverse for current #homeopathy buzz and ran across the (linked above) "Head to Head" dual article. The first part is a case FOR the use of homeopathy in medicine, followed by a case AGAINST.

I had several criticisms of the "for" article, most notably the assertion that homeopaths are not averse to conventional treatment including immunization. I don't know about Britain, but here in the US, most homeopaths are distinctly anti-vaccine. Dr Heidi Larson has studied the question of vaccine resistance for the WHO (we're talking WORLD health org) and identified homeopaths as one major population that is vaccine-averse.

Q (for Heidi): ...what are the determinants of vaccine hesitancy and refusal?
A: There are three main groups. First, the individual reasons related to personal belief systems or community- level belief systems. These may include everything from religious to philosophi- cal notions, and are held primarily by people who reject artificial means of triggering an immune response or be- lieve in alternative forms of medicine, such as homeopathy. Second, there are contextual factors, such as wars, con- flicts and other external circumstances that make vaccine refusal more likely. Third, there are vaccine-specific issues, for example public concerns over an adverse event or a piece of research – sometimes faulty research, such as on the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine by Andrew Wakefield in the United Kingdom – or over research that has been misunderstood.


On the right margin of the BMJ head to head article is a poll in which readers are asked if doctors "should" use homeopathy, and the homeopaths are currently ahead, probably because this fellow Vithoulkas urgently asked his 3,500+ twitter followers to go vote in the poll. How winning a poll substitutes for winning an argument I have yet to understand.

The British single payer health system still prescribes and dispenses homeopathic remedies. Nations find it useful to provide homeopathy is that it is 1) cheap and 2) hopefully harmless. When a patient presents with an urgent concern which will resolve on its own, doctors give these remedies to placate them. If the condition is not self-resolving or mental-emotional, the remedy will have no effect other than to satisfy the patient that SOMETHING is being done. It reduces the pressure on physicians to prescribe pharmaceuticals, which is actually a good thing in my view, because patients will demand antibiotics for viral infections and other meds when they are inappropriate and useless.

Giving a "med" that reassures the patient and has no other effect is not all bad. Revealing that these meds are placebos however would cause a loss of faith in the medical system. Sending patients home with placebos when they actually should have gotten a significant medical diagnosis and treatment is a disaster that we would all prefer to avoid.

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