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A Review of Cost-Effectiveness of Complementary and Integrative Medicine

January 14, 2013

A review published by the British Medical Journal Open uncovers the cost effectiveness of complementary and integrative medical (CIM) approaches in more than two dozen high-quality studies.

John Weeks, publisher and editor of the Integrator Blog, writes that even with research that shows the efficacy of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM), major stakeholders in healthcare are shying away from such approaches because they are still unsure of the cost-effectiveness of such interventions.

A systematic review of cost studies on CIM led by Dr. Patricia Herman, M.S., N.D., Ph.D., a professional economist, physician-level clinician, and NIH-funded researcher, in collaboration with Dr. David Eisenberg, M.D. of Harvard, showed that "higher-quality studies indicate potential cost-effectiveness, and even cost savings across a number of CIM therapies and populations." The exhaustive search yielded 338 economic evaluations, 114 of which included a comparison of both effectiveness and costs between groups. Cost savings resulted from a range of practices from acupuncture for breech delivery to manual manipulation for neck pain, natural products for various conditions, and naturopathic medicine for chronic low back pain.

This shows that there is evidence for cost-effectiveness that healthcare stakeholders can begin to act upon. Nevertheless, having only 28 high-quality studies internationally over a 10 year-period, especially in this time of cost crisis, calls for urgent intervention in leading further research. Interestingly, although the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) was given the task of investing in research on real world outcomes and health services that would yield cost and effectiveness data for the integration of CIM into healthcare delivery systems in the US, less than 1 percent of NCCAM grants funded outcome studies and about 0.025 percent examined costs.

As a consequence, it is becoming increasingly important to continue to push research organizations like the NCCAM to investigate cost-effectiveness of CIM, for which we already have positive, but limited, results.

Click here for the full article on Huffington Post.

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