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Logo of bmjoInstructions for authorsCurrent ToCBMJ Open
BMJ Open. 2012; 2(5): e001046.
Published online Sep 3, 2012. doi:  10.1136/bmjopen-2012-001046
PMCID: PMC3437424
Are complementary therapies and integrative care cost-effective? A systematic review of economic evaluations
Patricia M Herman,1 Beth L Poindexter,2 Claudia M Witt,3,4 and David M Eisenberg5,6,7
1Center for Health Outcomes and PharmacoEconomic Research, College of Pharmacy, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA
2Zuckerman College of Public Health, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, USA
3Institute for Social Medicine, Epidemiology and Health Economics, Charite’ University Medical Center, Berlin, Germany
4Center for Integrative Medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland, USA
5Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
6Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
7Samueli Institute, Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Correspondence to Dr Patricia M Herman; pherman/at/
Received February 24, 2012; Accepted July 30, 2012.
A comprehensive systematic review of economic evaluations of complementary and integrative medicine (CIM) to establish the value of these therapies to health reform efforts.
Data sources
PubMed, CINAHL, AMED, PsychInfo, Web of Science and EMBASE were searched from inception through 2010. In addition, bibliographies of found articles and reviews were searched, and key researchers were contacted.
Eligibility criteria for selecting studies
Studies of CIM were identified using criteria based on those of the Cochrane complementary and alternative medicine group. All studies of CIM reporting economic outcomes were included.
Study appraisal methods
All recent (and likely most cost-relevant) full economic evaluations published 2001–2010 were subjected to several measures of quality. Detailed results of higher-quality studies are reported.
A total of 338 economic evaluations of CIM were identified, of which 204, covering a wide variety of CIM for different populations, were published 2001–2010. A total of 114 of these were full economic evaluations. And 90% of these articles covered studies of single CIM therapies and only one compared usual care to usual care plus access to multiple licensed CIM practitioners. Of the recent full evaluations, 31 (27%) met five study-quality criteria, and 22 of these also met the minimum criterion for study transferability (‘generalisability’). Of the 56 comparisons made in the higher-quality studies, 16 (29%) show a health improvement with cost savings for the CIM therapy versus usual care. Study quality of the cost-utility analyses (CUAs) of CIM was generally comparable to that seen in CUAs across all medicine according to several measures, and the quality of the cost-saving studies was slightly, but not significantly, lower than those showing cost increases (85% vs 88%, p=0.460).
This comprehensive review identified many CIM economic evaluations missed by previous reviews and emerging evidence of cost-effectiveness and possible cost savings in at least a few clinical populations. Recommendations are made for future studies.
Keywords: Complementary Medicine, Health Economics, Statistics & Research Methods
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