Homeopathy may be hokum but GPs can learn from it
01:07 GMT, 19 June 2012
A homeopath will say they are prescribing 'dilutions' of treatments, but these are so dilute they're only water
A friend of mine has a chronic disease, an inflammatory arthritis that causes pain and swelling in many of her joints.
She’s never going to be cured; instead, she has to prepare herself for a future that might include hospital admissions and out-patient treatment, as well as daily medication.
I know she’s getting the very best of evidence-based care — her doctors are sure to use only treatments which are proven to work. But she’s unhappy.
Why Well, she says, every time she
goes to the hospital clinic or her GP she sees someone different. She
has to start again, at the beginning of her long story of ill health.
I was sad, but not surprised, when she told me her homeopath was doing
her a lot of good.
She had an hour with her, the homeopath was never
rushed, and asked all kinds of questions her usual doctors didn’t.
This is Homeopathy Awareness Week and celebrities, including David Bellamy, are involved in a campaign to promote it.
The problem is, homeopathy is bunk — it’s been tested in many studies and found to be no better than giving people sugar pills. But many people are devoted to it.
Why The answer is the placebo effect. This is what happens when your body reacts as though you are getting a useful treatment — but the ‘treatment’ is not biologically active.
I’ve experienced this myself. A few years ago, while I was in early labour, my TENS machine was working brilliantly in reducing my pain — until I realised I hadn’t put the batteries in properly.
The machine wasn’t working — but my brain was sure that it was. I had experienced a rather impressive placebo effect.
The big problem with these is they usually involve a deception of some kind — in my case, I’d fooled myself.
Research shows that when patients see the same doctor for ongoing problems, they feel they have more control over their health
Similarly a homeopath will say they are prescribing ‘dilutions’ of treatments, but these are so dilute they’re only water.
Research shows that when patients see the same doctor for ongoing problems, they feel they have more control over their health.
Yet it’s very hard to achieve these things in today’s NHS.
When patients see me, for example, with possible depression, I’m not paid to take time to listen — instead, as part of our GP contract we fill in a tickbox questionnaire, supposedly to ensure quality of care.
It’s horribly mechanised, and the opposite of what I’d like to be doing — understanding my patient and trying to listen to what they’re worried about.
If simple things such as seeing the same doctors repeatedly were a drug, you can bet there would be lobbyists beating down parliament until the NHS promised to use it at every opportunity.
Medicine without evidence is bad medicine, and that includes homeopathy.
But medicine without care is just as bad.
Dr McCartney works as GP in Scotland.
Her book, The Patient Paradox, Why Sexed Up Medicine Is Bad For Your Health, is published by Pinter and Martin at 7.99.