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Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Volume 3 (2006), Issue 4, Pages 425-432

Cost-Effectiveness of Complementary Therapies in the United Kingdom—A Systematic Review†

Complementary Medicine, Peninsula Medical School, Exeter Devon EX2 4NT, UK

Received 8 December 2005; Accepted 6 June 2006

Copyright © 2006 Peter H. Canter et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Objectives: The aim of this review is to systematically summarize and assess all prospective, controlled, cost-effectiveness studies of complementary therapies carried out in the UK. Data sources: Medline (via PubMed), Embase, CINAHL, Amed (Alternative and Allied Medicine Database, British Library Medical Information Centre), The Cochrane Library, National Health Service Economic Evaluation Database (via Cochrane) and Health Technology Assessments up to October 2005. Review methods: Articles describing prospective, controlled, cost-effectiveness studies of any type of complementary therapy for any medical condition carried out in the UK were included. Data extracted included the main outcomes for health benefit and cost. These data were extracted independently by two authors, described narratively and also presented as a table. Results: Six cost-effectiveness studies of complementary medicine in the UK were identified: four different types of spinal manipulation for back pain, one type of acupuncture for chronic headache and one type of acupuncture for chronic back pain. Four of the six studies compared the complementary therapy with usual conventional treatment in pragmatic, randomized clinical trials without sham or placebo arms. Main outcome measures of effectiveness favored the complementary therapies but in the case of spinal manipulation (four studies) and acupuncture (one study) for back pain, effect sizes were small and of uncertain clinical relevance. The same four studies included a cost-utility analyses in which the incremental cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY) was less than £10 000. The complementary therapy represented an additional health care cost in five of the six studies. Conclusions: Prospective, controlled, cost-effectiveness studies of complementary therapies have been carried out in the UK only for spinal manipulation (four studies) and acupuncture (two studies). The limited data available indicate that the use of these therapies usually represents an additional cost to conventional treatment. Estimates of the incremental cost of achieving improvements in quality of life compare favorably with other treatments approved for use in the National Health Service. Because the specific efficacy of the complementary therapies for these indications remains uncertain, and the studies did not include sham controls, the estimates obtained may represent the cost-effectiveness non-specific effects associated with the complementary therapies.