Echinacea plant preparations (family Asteraceae) are widely used in Europe and North America for common colds. Most consumers and physicians are not aware that products available under the term Echinacea differ appreciably in their composition, mainly due to the use of variable plant material, extraction methods and the addition of other components.
To assess whether there is evidence that Echinacea preparations are effective and safe compared to placebo in the prevention and treatment of the common cold.
We searched CENTRAL 2013, Issue 5, MEDLINE (1946 to May week 5, 2013), EMBASE (1991 to June 2013), CINAHL (1981 to June 2013), AMED (1985 to February 2012), LILACS (1981 to June 2013), Web of Science (1955 to June 2013), CAMBASE (no time limits), the Centre for Complementary Medicine Research (1988 to September 2007), WHO ICTRP and clinicaltrials.gov (last searched 5 June 2013), screened references and asked experts in the field about published and unpublished studies.
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing mono-preparations of Echinacea with placebo.
Data collection and analysis
At least two review authors independently assessed eligibility and trial quality and extracted data. The primary efficacy outcome was the number of individuals with at least one cold in prevention trials and the duration of colds in treatment trials. For all included trials the primary safety and acceptability outcome was the number of participants dropping out due to adverse events. We assessed trial quality using the Cochrane ’Risk of bias’ tool.
Twenty-four double-blind trials with 4631 participants including a total of 33 comparisons of Echinacea preparations and placebo met the inclusion criteria. A variety of different Echinacea preparations based on different species and parts of plant were used. Evidence from seven trials was available for preparations based on the aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea.
Ten trials were considered to have a low risk of bias, six to have an unclear risk of bias and eight to have a high risk of bias. Ten trials with 13 comparisons investigated prevention and 15 trials with 20 comparisons investigated treatment of colds (one trial addressed both prevention and treatment).
Due to the strong clinical heterogeneity of the studies we refrained from pooling for the main analysis. None of the 12 prevention comparisons reporting the number of patients with at least one cold episode found a statistically significant difference. However a post hoc pooling of their results, suggests a relative risk reduction of 10% to 20%. Of the seven treatment trials reporting data on the duration of colds, only one showed a significant effect of Echinacea over placebo. The number of patients dropping out or reporting adverse effects did not differ significantly between treatment and control groups in prevention and treatment trials. However, in prevention trials there was a trend towards a larger number of patients dropping out due to adverse events in the treatment groups.
Echinacea products have not here been shown to provide benefits for treating colds, although, it is possible there is a weak benefit from some Echinacea products: the results of individual prophylaxis trials consistently show positive (if non-significant) trends, although potential effects are of questionable clinical relevance.
*Echinacea; *Phytotherapy; Common Cold [*prevention & control; *therapy]; Plant Extracts [*therapeutic use]; Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic; Humans
Preliminary findings suggest that Web-based interventions may be effective in achieving significant smoking cessation. To date, very few findings are available for primary care patients, and especially for the involvement of general practitioners.
Our goal was to examine the short-term effectiveness of a fully automated Web-based coaching program in combination with accompanied telephone counseling in smoking cessation in a primary care setting.
The study was an unblinded cluster-randomized trial with an observation period of 12 weeks. Individuals recruited by general practitioners randomized to the intervention group participated in a Web-based coaching program based on education, motivation, exercise guidance, daily short message service (SMS) reminding, weekly feedback through Internet, and active monitoring by general practitioners. All components of the program are fully automated. Participants in the control group received usual care and advice from their practitioner without the Web-based coaching program. The main outcome was the biochemically confirmed smoking status after 12 weeks.
We recruited 168 participants (86 intervention group, 82 control group) into the study. For 51 participants from the intervention group and 70 participants from the control group, follow-up data were available both at baseline and 12 weeks. Very few patients (9.8%, 5/51) from the intervention group and from the control group (8.6%, 6/70) successfully managed smoking cessation (OR 0.86, 95% CI 0.25-3.0; P=.816). Similar results were found within the intent-to-treat analysis: 5.8% (5/86) of the intervention group and 7.3% (6/82) of the control group (OR 1.28, 95% CI 0.38-4.36; P=.694). The number of smoked cigarettes per day decreased on average by 9.3 in the intervention group and by 6.6 in the control group (2.7 mean difference; 95% CI -5.33 to -0.58; P=.045). After adjustment for the baseline value, age, gender, and height, this significance decreases (mean difference 2.2; 95% CI -4.7 to 0.3; P=.080).
This trial did not show that the tested Web-based intervention was effective for achieving smoking cessation compared to usual care. The limited statistical power and the high drop-out rate may have reduced the study’s ability to detect significant differences between the groups. Further randomized controlled trials are needed in larger populations and to investigate the long-term outcome.
German Register for Clinical Trials, registration number DRKS00003067; http://drks-neu.uniklinik-freiburg.de/drks_web/navigate.do?navigationId=trial.HTML&TRIAL_ ID=DRKS00003067 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/6Sff1YZpx).
smoking cessation; Web-based; randomized controlled trial; primary care
Diagnostic reasoning in primary care setting where presented problems and patients are mostly unselected appears as a complex process. The aim was to develop a questionnaire to describe how general practitioners (GPs) deal with uncertainty to gain more insight into the decisional process. The association of personality traits with medical decision making was investigated additionally.
Raw items were identified by literature research and focus group. Items were improved by interviewing ten GPs with thinking-aloud-method. A personal case vignette related to a complex and uncertainty situation was introduced. The final questionnaire was administered to 228 GPs in Germany. Factorial validity was calculated with explorative and confirmatory factor analysis. The results of the Communicating and Dealing with Uncertainty (CoDU) – questionnaire were compared with the scales of the ‘Physician Reaction to Uncertainty’ (PRU) questionnaire and with the personality traits which were determined with the Big Five Inventory (BFI-K).
The items could be assigned to four scales with varying internal consistency, namely ‘communicating uncertainty’ (Cronbach alpha 0.79), ‘diagnostic action’ (0.60), ‘intuition’ (0.39) and ‘extended social anamnesis’ (0.69). Neuroticism was positively associated with all PRU scales ‘anxiety due to uncertainty’ (Pearson correlation 0.487), ‘concerns about bad outcomes’ (0.488), ‘reluctance to disclose uncertainty to patients’ (0.287), ‘reluctance to disclose mistakes to physicians’ (0.212) and negatively associated with the CoDU scale ‘communicating uncertainty’ (−0.242) (p<0.01 for all). ‘Extraversion’ (0.146; p<0.05), ‘agreeableness’ (0.145, p<0.05), ‘conscientiousness’ (0.168, p<0.05) and ‘openness to experience’ (0.186, p<0.01) were significantly positively associated with ‘communicating uncertainty’. ‘Extraversion’ (0.162), ‘consciousness’ (0.158) and ‘openness to experience’ (0.155) were associated with ‘extended social anamnesis’ (p<0.05).
The questionnaire allowed describing the diagnostic decision making process of general practitioners in complex situations. Personality traits are associated with diagnostic reasoning and communication with patients, which might be important for medical education and quality improvement purposes.
In a large randomised trial in patients with seasonal allergic rhinitis (SAR), acupuncture was superior compared to sham acupuncture and rescue medication. The aim of this paper is to describe the characteristics of the trial’s participating physicians and to describe the trial intervention in accordance with the STRICTA (Standards for Reporting Interventions in Controlled Trials of Acupuncture) guidelines, to make details of the trial intervention more transparent to researchers and physicians.
ACUSAR (ACUpuncture in Seasonal Allergic Rhinitis) was a three-armed, randomised, controlled multicentre trial. 422 SAR patients were randomised to semi-standardised acupuncture plus rescue medication (RM, cetirizine), sham acupuncture plus RM or RM alone. We sent a questionnaire to trial physicians in order to evaluate their characteristics regarding their education about and experience in providing acupuncture. During the trial, acupuncturists were asked to diagnose all of their patients according to Chinese Medicine (CM) as a basis for the semi-standardised, individualized intervention in the acupuncture group. Every acupuncture point used in this trial had to be documented after each session
Acupuncture was administered in outpatient clinics by 46 (mean age 47 ± 10 years; 24 female/ 22 male) conventionally-trained medical doctors (67% with postgraduate specialization such as internal or family medicine) with additional extensive acupuncture training (median 500 hours (1st quartile 350, 3rd quartile 1000 hours with 73% presenting a B-diploma in acupuncture training (350 hours)) and experience (mean 14 years in practice). The most reported traditional CM diagnosis was ‘wind-cold invading the lung’ (37%) and ‘wind-heat invading the lung’ (37%), followed by ‘lung and spleen qi deficiency’ (9%). The total number of needles used was higher in the acupuncture group compared to the sham acupuncture group (15.7 ± 2.5 vs. 10.0 ± 1.6).
The trial interventions were provided by well educated and experienced acupuncturists. The different number of needles in both intervention groups could be possibly a reason for the better clinical effect in SAR patients. For future trials it might be more appropriate to ensure that acupuncture and sham acupuncture groups should each be treated by a similar number of needles.
Acupuncture; Randomised controlled trial; Seasonal allergic rhinitis; Trial intervention; Sham acupuncture
In a recent individual patient data meta-analysis, acupuncture was found to be superior to both sham and non-sham controls in patients with chronic pain. In this paper we identify variations in types of sham and non-sham controls used and analyze their impact on the effect size of acupuncture.
Based on literature searches of acupuncture trials involving patients with headache and migraine, osteoarthritis, and back, neck and shoulder pain, 29 trials met inclusion criteria, 20 involving sham controls (n = 5,230) and 18 non-sham controls (n = 14,597). For sham controls, we analysed non-needle sham, penetrating sham needles and non-penetrating sham needles. For non-sham controls, we analysed non-specified routine care and protocol-guided care. Using meta-regression we explored impact of choice of control on effect of acupuncture.
Acupuncture was significantly superior to all categories of control group. For trials that used penetrating needles for sham control, acupuncture had smaller effect sizes than for trials with non-penetrating sham or sham control without needles. The difference in effect size was −0.45 (95% C.I. −0.78, −0.12; p = 0.007), or −0.19 (95% C.I. −0.39, 0.01; p = 0.058) after exclusion of outlying studies showing very large effects of acupuncture. In trials with non-sham controls, larger effect sizes associated with acupuncture vs. non-specified routine care than vs. protocol-guided care. Although the difference in effect size was large (0.26), it was not significant with a wide confidence interval (95% C.I. −0.05, 0.57, p = 0.1).
Acupuncture is significantly superior to control irrespective of the subtype of control. While the choice of control should be driven by the study question, our findings can help inform study design in acupuncture, particularly with respect to sample size. Penetrating needles appear to have important physiologic activity. We recommend that this type of sham be avoided.
We aimed to investigate the use of placebos (e.g. saline injections) and non-specific treatments (e.g. vitamin supplements in individuals without a relevant deficiency) among physicians working in private practices in Germany, and how such use is associated with the belief in and the use of complementary and alternative treatments, and basic professional attitudes. A four-page questionnaire was sent to nationwide random samples of general practitioners (GP), internists and orthopaedists working in private practices. The response rate was 46% (935 of 2018). 24% of GPs, 44% of internists and 57% of orthopaedists had neither used pure placebos nor non-specific therapies in the previous 12 months. 11% percent of GPs, 12% of internists and 7% of orthopaedists had exclusively used pure placebos; 30%, 33% and 26%, respectively, had exclusively used non-specific therapies; 35%, 12% and 9% had used both. Age, sex and agreement to the statement that physicians should harness placebo effects were not significantly associated with any pattern of use. Exclusive use of pure placebos was associated with being a GP, being an internist, and having unorthodox professional views. In addition to these three factors, a lower use of CAM therapies and a wish for having more time was associated with the exclusive use of non-specific therapies. Among physicians using both pure placebo and non-specific therapies, heterodox views were also somewhat more pronounced. However, associations were particularly strong for being a GP (Odds ratio 11.6 (95%CI 6.41; 21.3)) and having orthodox views (Odds ratio 0.10 (95%CI 0.06; 0.18)) among this group. In conclusion, the use of placebos and non-specific treatments varies strongly between medical specialties and is associated with basic professional attitudes. The findings support the view that the use of placebos and, in particular, of non-specific therapies is primarily a coping behaviour for difficult and uncertain situations.
The use of complementary and alternative Medicine (CAM) has increased over the past two decades in Europe. Nonetheless, research investigating the evidence to support its use remains limited. The CAMbrella project funded by the European Commission aimed to develop a strategic research agenda starting by systematically evaluating the state of CAM in the EU. CAMbrella involved 9 work packages covering issues such as the definition of CAM; its legal status, provision and use in the EU; and a synthesis of international research perspectives. Based on the work package reports, we developed a strategic and methodologically robust research roadmap based on expert workshops, a systematic Delphi-based process and a final consensus conference. The CAMbrella project suggests six core areas for research to examine the potential contribution of CAM to the health care challenges faced by the EU. These areas include evaluating the prevalence of CAM use in Europe; the EU cititzens’ needs and attitudes regarding CAM; the safety of CAM; the comparative effectiveness of CAM; the effects of meaning and context on CAM outcomes; and different models for integrating CAM into existing health care systems. CAM research should use methods generally accepted in the evaluation of health services, including comparative effectiveness studies and mixed-methods designs. A research strategy is urgently needed, ideally led by a European CAM coordinating research office dedicated to fostering systematic communication between EU governments, the public, charitable and industry funders, researchers and other stakeholders. A European Centre for CAM should also be established to monitor and further a coordinated research strategy with sufficient funds to commission and promote high quality, independent research focusing on the public’s health needs and pan-European collaboration. There is a disparity between highly prevalent use of CAM in Europe and solid knowledge about it. A strategic approach on CAM research should be established to investigate the identified gaps of knowledge and to address upcoming health care challenges.
Complementary and alternative medicine; Research strategy; Randomized clinical trials; Safety; Qualitative studies; Comparative effectiveness research
Students in German medical schools frequently complain that the subject ‘clinical examination’ is not taught in a satisfying manner due to time constraints and lack of personnel resources. While the effectiveness and efficiency of practice-oriented teaching in small groups using near-peer teaching has been shown, it is rarely used in German medical schools. We investigated whether adding a new near-peer teaching course developed with student input plus patient examination under supervision in small groups improves basic clinical examination skills in third year medical students compared to a traditional clinical examination course alone.
Third year medical students registered for the mandatory curricular clinical examination course at the medical faculty of the Technische Universität München were invited to participate in a randomised trial with blinded outcome assessment. Students were randomised to the control group participating in the established curricular physical examination course or to the intervention group, which received additional near-peer teaching for the same content. The learning success was verified by a voluntary objective structured clinical examination (OSCE).
A total of 84 students were randomised and 53 (63%) participated in the final OSCE. Students in the control group scored a median of 57% (25th percentile 47%, 75th percentile 61%) of the maximum possible total points of the OSCE compared to 77% (73%, 80%; p < 0.001) for students in the intervention group. Only two students in the intervention group received a lower score than the best student in the control group.
Adding a near-peer teaching course to the routine course significantly improved the clinical examination skills of medical students in an efficient manner in the context of a resource-constrained setting.
Although acupuncture is widely used for chronic pain, there remains considerable controversy as to its value. We aimed to determine the effect size of acupuncture for four chronic pain conditions: back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain.
We conducted a systematic review to identify randomized trials of acupuncture for chronic pain where allocation concealment was determined unambiguously to be adequate. Individual patient data meta-analyses were conducted using data from 29 of 31 eligible trials, with a total of 17,922 patients analyzed.
In the primary analysis including all eligible trials, acupuncture was superior to both sham and no acupuncture control for each pain condition (all p<0.001). After exclusion of an outlying set of trials that strongly favored acupuncture, the effect sizes were similar across pain conditions. Patients receiving acupuncture had less pain, with scores 0.23 (95% C.I. 0.13, 0.33), 0.16 (95% C.I. 0.07, 0.25) and 0.15 (95% C.I. 0.07, 0.24) standard deviations lower than sham controls for back and neck pain, osteoarthritis, and chronic headache respectively; the effect sizes in comparison to no acupuncture controls were 0.55 (95% C.I. 0.51, 0.58), 0.57 (95% C.I. 0.50, 0.64) and 0.42 (95% C.I. 0.37, 0.46). These results were robust to a variety of sensitivity analyses, including those related to publication bias.
Acupuncture is effective for the treatment of chronic pain and is therefore a reasonable referral option. Significant differences between true and sham acupuncture indicate that acupuncture is more than a placebo. However, these differences are relatively modest, suggesting that factors in addition to the specific effects of needling are important contributors to the therapeutic effects of acupuncture.
The specific clinical benefit of the homeopathic consultation and of homeopathic remedies in patients with depression has not yet been investigated.
To investigate the 1) specific effect of individualized homeopathic Q-potencies compared to placebo and 2) the effect of an extensive homeopathic case taking (case history I) compared to a shorter, rather conventional one (case history II) in the treatment of acute major depression (moderate episode) after six weeks.
A randomized, partially double-blind, placebo-controlled, four-armed trial using a 2×2 factorial design with a six-week study duration per patient was performed.
A total of 44 from 228 planned patients were randomized (2∶1∶2∶1 randomization: 16 homeopathic Q-potencies/case history I, 7 placebo/case history I, 14 homeopathic Q-potencies/case history II, 7 placebo/case history II). Because of recruitment problems, the study was terminated prior to full recruitment, and was underpowered for the preplanned confirmatory hypothesis testing. Exploratory data analyses showed heterogeneous and inconclusive results with large variance in the sample. The mean difference for the Hamilton-D after 6 weeks was 2.0 (95%CI −1.2;5.2) for Q-potencies vs. placebo and −3.1 (−5.9;−0.2) for case history I vs. case history II. Overall, no consistent or clinically relevant results across all outcomes between homeopathic Q-potencies versus placebo and homeopathic versus conventional case taking were observed. The frequency of adverse events was comparable for all groups.
Although our results are inconclusive, given that recruitment into this trial was very difficult and we had to terminate early, we cannot recommend undertaking a further trial addressing this question in a similar setting.
Prof. Dr. Claudia Witt had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.
clinicaltrials.gov identifier NCT01178255.
In elderly patients chronic kidney disease often limits drug prescription. As several equations for quick assessment of kidney function by estimating glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) and several different clinical recommendations for drug dose adjustment in renal failure are published, choosing the correct approach for drug dosage is difficult for the practitioner. The aims of our study were to quantify the agreement between eGFR-equations grouped by creatinine-based or cystatin C-based and within the groups of creatinine and cystatin C-based equations and to investigate whether use of various literature and online references results in different recommendations for drug dose adjustment in renal disease in very elderly primary care patients.
We included 108 primary care patients aged 80 years and older from 11 family practices into a cross-sectional study. GFR was estimated using two serum creatinine-based equations (Cockroft-Gault, MDRD) and three serum cystatin C-based equations (Grubb, Hoek, Perkins). Concordance between different equations was quantified using intraclass correlation coefficients (ICCs). Essential changes in drug doses or discontinuation of medication were documented and compared in terms of estimated renal function as a consequence of the different eGFR-equations using five references commonly used in the US, Great Britain and Germany.
In general, creatinine-based equations resulted in lower eGFR-estimation and in higher necessity of drug dose adjustment than cystatin C-based equations. Concordance was high between creatinine-based equations alone (ICCs 0.87) and between cystatin C-based equations alone (ICCs 0.90 to 0.96), and moderate between creatinine-based equations and cystatin C-based equations (ICCs 0.54 to 0.76). When comparing the five different references consulted to identify necessary drug dose adjustments we found that the numbers of drugs that necessitate dose adjustment in the case of renal impairment differed considerably. The mean number of recommended changes in drug dosage ranged between 1.9 and 2.5 per patient depending on the chosen literature reference.
Our data suggest that the choice of the literature source might have even greater impact on drug management than the choice of the equation used to estimate GFR alone. Efforts should be deployed to standardize methods for estimating kidney function in geriatric patients and literature recommendations on drug dose adjustment in renal failure.
Estimated kidney function; Aged 80 years and older; Drug dose adjustment; Primary care; Literature references
Preliminary findings suggest that web-based interventions may be effective in achieving significant weight loss and weight loss maintenance. To date only few findings within primary care patients and especially the involvement of general practitioners are available. The aim of this trial was to examine the short-term effectiveness of a web-based coaching program in combination with an accompanied telephone counselling regarding weight reduction in a primary care setting.
The study was a cluster-randomized trial with an observation period of 12 weeks. Individuals recruited by general practitioners randomized to the intervention group participated in a web-based coaching program based on education, motivation, exercise guidance, daily SMS reminding, weekly feedback through internet and active monitoring by general practitioners. Participants in the control group received usual care and advice from their practitioner without the web-based coaching program. The main outcome was weight change between admission and after 12 weeks.
186 participants (109 intervention group, 77 control group) were recruited into study. For 76 participants from the intervention group and 72 participants from the control group weight measurements were available both at baseline and 12 weeks. Weight decreased on average by 4.2 kg in the intervention group and 1.7 kg in the control group (mean group difference 2.5 kg; 95%CI 1,1; 3,8; p < 0.001). Reductions for waist circumference and BMI were also significantly larger within intervention.
Findings of the present trial suggest that the tested web-based coaching program for weight loss is effective in short-term. Further RCT’s are desirable in order to confirm present findings in larger populations and to investigate long-term outcomes.
German Register for Clinical Trials: DRKS00003067
Overweight; Obesity; Weight loss; Web-based; Randomized controlled trial
This article reviews the role of placebo interventions and placebo effects in clinical practice. We first describe the relevance of different perspectives among scientists, physicians and patients on what is considered a placebo intervention in clinical practice. We then summarize how placebo effects have been investigated in randomized controlled trials under the questionable premise that such effects are produced by placebo interventions. We further discuss why a shift of focus from the placebo intervention to the overall therapeutic context is necessary and what research methods can be used for the clinical investigation of the relevance of context effects. In the last part of the manuscript, we discuss why placebo or context effects are seen as positive in clinical practice when they are associated with active treatments, while placebo interventions pose major ethical and professional problems and have to be avoided.
clinical practice; placebo; placebo effects; randomized controlled trials; ethics
Governmental funding support is seen as a prerequisite for the growth of research in general practice. Several funding programs in the amount of € 13.2 Mio were introduced in Germany from 2002 to February 2012. We aim to provide an overview of publications reporting original data and systematic reviews from German academic family medicine published between 2000 and 2010.
Publications were identified by searching the database Scopus and screening publication lists of family medicine divisions or institutes. Papers had to report original primary research studies or systematic reviews; at least one of the authors had to be affiliated to a German academic family medicine division or institute.
794 articles were included. The number of publications increased steadily starting from 107 in the period from 2000 to 2003, to 273 from 2004 to 2007, and finally to 414 from 2008 to 2010. Less than 25% were published in English in the first period. This proportion increased to 60.6% from 2008 to 2010. Articles published in a journal without impact factor decreased from 59.8% to 31.9%. Nevertheless, even in the most recent period only 31.6% of all articles were published in a journal with an impact factor above 2. The median impact factor increased from 0 in the first period to 1.2 in the last.
The output of original research publications from academic research divisions and institutes for general practice in Germany greatly increased during the last decade. However, professionalism of German primary care research still needs to be developed.
Research articles; Germany; Primary care; General practice; Academic performance
Several systematic reviews have summarized the evidence for specific treatments of primary care patients suffering from depression. However, it is not possible to answer the question how the available treatment options compare with each other as review methods differ. We aim to systematically review and compare the available evidence for the effectiveness of pharmacological, psychological, and combined treatments for patients with depressive disorders in primary care.
To be included, studies have to be randomized trials comparing antidepressant medication (tricyclic antidepressants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), hypericum extracts, other agents) and/or psychological therapies (e.g. interpersonal psychotherapy, cognitive therapy, behavioural therapy, short dynamically-oriented psychotherapy) with another active therapy, placebo or sham intervention, routine care or no treatment in primary care patients in the acute phase of a depressive episode. Main outcome measure is response after completion of acute phase treatment. Eligible studies will be identified from available systematic reviews, from searches in electronic databases (Medline, Embase and Central), trial registers, and citation tracking. Two reviewers will independently extract study data and assess the risk of bias using the Cochrane Collaboration's corresponding tool. Meta-analyses (random effects model, inverse variance weighting) will be performed for direct comparisons of single interventions and for groups of similar interventions (e.g. SSRIs vs. tricyclics) and defined time-windows (up to 3 months and above). If possible, a global analysis of the relative effectiveness of treatments will be estimated from all available direct and indirect evidence that is present in a network of treatments and comparisons.
Practitioners do not only want to know whether there is evidence that a specific treatment is more effective than placebo, but also how the treatment options compare to each other. Therefore, we believe that a multiple treatment systematic review of primary-care based randomized controlled trials on the most important therapies against depression is timely.
Peripheral joint osteoarthritis is a major cause of pain and functional limitation. Few treatments are safe and effective.
To assess the effects of acupuncture for treating peripheral joint osteoarthritis.
We searched the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library 2008, Issue 1), MEDLINE, and EMBASE (both through December 2007), and scanned reference lists of articles.
Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing needle acupuncture with a sham, another active treatment, or a waiting list control group in people with osteoarthritis of the knee, hip, or hand.
Data collection and analysis
Two authors independently assessed trial quality and extracted data. We contacted study authors for additional information. We calculated standardized mean differences using the differences in improvements between groups.
Sixteen trials involving 3498 people were included. Twelve of the RCTs included only people with OA of the knee, 3 only OA of the hip, and 1 a mix of people with OA of the hip and/or knee. In comparison with a sham control, acupuncture showed statistically significant, short-term improvements in osteoarthritis pain (standardized mean difference -0.28, 95% confidence interval -0.45 to -0.11; 0.9 point greater improvement than sham on 20 point scale; absolute percent change 4.59%; relative percent change 10.32%; 9 trials; 1835 participants) and function (-0.28, -0.46 to -0.09; 2.7 point greater improvement on 68 point scale; absolute percent change 3.97%; relative percent change 8.63%); however, these pooled short-term benefits did not meet our predefined thresholds for clinical relevance (i.e. 1.3 points for pain; 3.57 points for function) and there was substantial statistical heterogeneity. Additionally, restriction to sham-controlled trials using shams judged most likely to adequately blind participants to treatment assignment (which were also the same shams judged most likely to have physiological activity), reduced heterogeneity and resulted in pooled short-term benefits of acupuncture that were smaller and non-significant. In comparison with sham acupuncture at the six-month follow-up, acupuncture showed borderline statistically significant, clinically irrelevant improvements in osteoarthritis pain (-0.10, -0.21 to 0.01; 0.4 point greater improvement than sham on 20 point scale; absolute percent change 1.81%; relative percent change 4.06%; 4 trials;1399 participants) and function (-0.11, -0.22 to 0.00; 1.2 point greater improvement than sham on 68 point scale; absolute percent change 1.79%; relative percent change 3.89%). In a secondary analysis versus a waiting list control, acupuncture was associated with statistically significant, clinically relevant short-term improvements in osteoarthritis pain (-0.96, -1.19 to -0.72; 14.5 point greater improvement than sham on 100 point scale; absolute percent change 14.5%; relative percent change 29.14%; 4 trials; 884 participants) and function (-0.89, -1.18 to -0.60; 13.0 point greater improvement than sham on 100 point scale; absolute percent change 13.0%; relative percent change 25.21%). In the head-on comparisons of acupuncture with the ‘supervised osteoarthritis education’ and the ‘physician consultation’ control groups, acupuncture was associated with clinically relevant short- and long-term improvements in pain and function. In the head on comparisons of acupuncture with ‘home exercises/advice leaflet’ and ‘supervised exercise’, acupuncture was associated with similar treatment effects as the controls. Acupuncture as an adjuvant to an exercise based physiotherapy program did not result in any greater improvements than the exercise program alone. Information on safety was reported in only 8 trials and even in these trials there was limited reporting and heterogeneous methods.
Sham-controlled trials show statistically significant benefits; however, these benefits are small, do not meet our pre-defined thresholds for clinical relevance, and are probably due at least partially to placebo effects from incomplete blinding. Waiting list-controlled trials of acupuncture for peripheral joint osteoarthritis suggest statistically significant and clinically relevant benefits, much of which may be due to expectation or placebo effects.
Acupuncture Therapy [*methods]; Arthralgia [therapy]; Osteoarthritis, Hip [*therapy]; Osteoarthritis, Knee [*therapy]; Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic; Recovery of Function; Humans
The effect of psychosomatic co-morbidity on resource use for systems with unlimited access remains unclear. The aim of this study was to evaluate the impact on practice visits, referrals and periods of disability in German general practices and to identify predictors of health care utilisation.
Cross sectional observational study in 13 practices in Upper Bavaria. Patients were included consecutively and filled in the Patients Health Questionnaire (PHQ). Numbers of practice visits, referrals and periods of disability within the last twelve months and permanent mental and somatic diagnoses were extracted manually by review of the computerised charts. Physicians in Germany are obliged to document repetitive reasons of encounter as permanent diagnoses in terms of ICD-10-codes. These ICD-10-codes are used for legitimisation of reimbursement in German general practices.
1005 patients were included (58.6% female). On average, patients had 15.3 (sd 16.3) practice contacts, 3.8 (sd 4.2) referrals and 7.5 (sd 23.1) days of disability per year. The mean number of coded permanent diagnoses was 0.4 (sd 0.7) for mental and 4.0 (sd 4.0) for somatic diagnoses. Patients with mental diagnoses scored higher in depression, anxiety, panic and somatoform disorder scales of PHQ. Frequent practice visits were associated stronger with coded permanent mental diagnoses (OR 20.0; 95%CI 7.5-53.9) than with coded permanent somatic diagnoses (OR 14.4; 95%CI 5.9-35.4). Frequent referrals were associated stronger with somatic diagnoses (OR 4.9; 95%CI 2.0-11.9) than with mental diagnoses (OR 3.6; 95%CI 1.4-9.8). Periods of disability were predicted by mental diagnoses (OR 5.0; 95%CI 1.6-15.8) but not by somatic diagnoses (OR 2.5; 95%CI 0.7-8.1).
Psychosomatic co-morbidity has a stronger impact on health care utilisation in German general practices with respect to practice visits and periods of disability whereas somatic disorders play a stronger role for referrals. Time constraints in the practices might lead to frequent contacts as too little time is left for patients with mental problems. Therefore, structural changes in the health care reimbursement systems might be necessary. Mental diagnoses might be helpful to identify patients at risk for high health care utilisation. However, the use of routinely coded diagnoses for reimbursement might lead to distorted estimation of resource use.
Acupuncture is often used for tension-type headache prophylaxis but its effectiveness is still controversial. This review (along with a companion review on ‘Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis’) represents an updated version of a Cochrane review originally published in Issue 1, 2001, of The Cochrane Library.
To investigate whether acupuncture is a) more effective than no prophylactic treatment/routine care only; b) more effective than ‘sham’ (placebo) acupuncture; and c) as effective as other interventions in reducing headache frequency in patients with episodic or chronic tension-type headache.
The Cochrane Pain, Palliative & Supportive Care Trials Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field Trials Register were searched to January 2008.
We included randomized trials with a post-randomization observation period of at least 8 weeks that compared the clinical effects of an acupuncture intervention with a control (treatment of acute headaches only or routine care), a sham acupuncture intervention or another intervention in patients with episodic or chronic tension-type headache.
Data collection and analysis
Two reviewers checked eligibility; extracted information on patients, interventions, methods and results; and assessed risk of bias and quality of the acupuncture intervention. Outcomes extracted included response (at least 50% reduction of headache frequency; outcome of primary interest), headache days, pain intensity and analgesic use.
Eleven trials with 2317 participants (median 62, range 10 to 1265) met the inclusion criteria. Two large trials compared acupuncture to treatment of acute headaches or routine care only. Both found statistically significant and clinically relevant short-term (up to 3 months) benefits of acupuncture over control for response, number of headache days and pain intensity. Long-term effects (beyond 3 months) were not investigated. Six trials compared acupuncture with a sham acupuncture intervention, and five of the six provided data for meta-analyses. Small but statistically significant benefits of acupuncture over sham were found for response as well as for several other outcomes. Three of the four trials comparing acupuncture with physiotherapy, massage or relaxation had important methodological or reporting shortcomings. Their findings are difficult to interpret, but collectively suggest slightly better results for some outcomes in the control groups.
In the previous version of this review, evidence in support of acupuncture for tension-type headache was considered insufficient. Now, with six additional trials, the authors conclude that acupuncture could be a valuable non-pharmacological tool in patients with frequent episodic or chronic tension-type headaches.
Acupuncture Therapy [*methods]; Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic; Tension-Type Headache [*prevention & control]
Acupuncture is often used for migraine prophylaxis but its effectiveness is still controversial. This review (along with a companion review on ’Acupuncture for tension-type headache’) represents an updated version of a Cochrane review originally published in Issue 1, 2001, of The Cochrane Library.
To investigate whether acupuncture is a) more effective than no prophylactic treatment/routine care only; b) more effective than ’sham’ (placebo) acupuncture; and c) as effective as other interventions in reducing headache frequency in patients with migraine.
The Cochrane Pain, Palliative & Supportive Care Trials Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, EMBASE and the Cochrane Complementary Medicine Field Trials Register were searched to January 2008.
We included randomized trials with a post-randomization observation period of at least 8 weeks that compared the clinical effects of an acupuncture intervention with a control (no prophylactic treatment or routine care only), a sham acupuncture intervention or another intervention in patients with migraine.
Data collection and analysis
Two reviewers checked eligibility; extracted information on patients, interventions, methods and results; and assessed risk of bias and quality of the acupuncture intervention. Outcomes extracted included response (outcome of primary interest), migraine attacks, migraine days, headache days and analgesic use. Pooled effect size estimates were calculated using a random-effects model.
Twenty-two trials with 4419 participants (mean 201, median 42, range 27 to 1715) met the inclusion criteria. Six trials (including two large trials with 401 and 1715 patients) compared acupuncture to no prophylactic treatment or routine care only. After 3 to 4 months patients receiving acupuncture had higher response rates and fewer headaches. The only study with long-term follow up saw no evidence that effects dissipated up to 9 months after cessation of treatment. Fourteen trials compared a ’true’ acupuncture intervention with a variety of sham interventions. Pooled analyses did not show a statistically significant superiority for true acupuncture for any outcome in any of the time windows, but the results of single trials varied considerably. Four trials compared acupuncture to proven prophylactic drug treatment. Overall in these trials acupuncture was associated with slightly better outcomes and fewer adverse effects than prophylactic drug treatment. Two small low-quality trials comparing acupuncture with relaxation (alone or in combination with massage) could not be interpreted reliably.
In the previous version of this review, evidence in support of acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis was considered promising but insufficient. Now, with 12 additional trials, there is consistent evidence that acupuncture provides additional benefit to treatment of acute migraine attacks only or to routine care. There is no evidence for an effect of ’true’ acupuncture over sham interventions, though this is difficult to interpret, as exact point location could be of limited importance. Available studies suggest that acupuncture is at least as effective as, or possibly more effective than, prophylactic drug treatment, and has fewer adverse effects. Acupuncture should be considered a treatment option for patients willing to undergo this treatment.
*Acupuncture Therapy; Migraine Disorders [*prevention & control]; Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic; Humans
Prevention of falls in the elderly is a public health target in many countries around the world. While a large number of trials have investigated the effectiveness of fall prevention programs, few focussed on interventions embedded in the general practice setting and its related network. In the Prevent Falls (PreFalls) trial we aim to investigate the effectiveness of a pre-tested multi-modal intervention compared to usual care in this setting.
PreFalls is a controlled multicenter prospective study with cluster-randomized allocation of about 40 general practices to an experimental or a control group. We aim to include 382 community dwelling persons aged 65 and older with an increased risk of falling. All participating general practitioners are trained to systematically assess the risk of falls using a set of validated tests. Patients from intervention practices are invited to participate in a 16-weeks exercise program with focus on fall prevention delivered by specifically trained local physiotherapists. Patients from practices allocated to the control group receive usual care. Main outcome measure is the number of falls per individual in the first 12 months (analysis by negative binomial regression). Secondary outcomes include falls in the second year, the proportion of participants falling in the first and the second year, falls associated with injury, risk of falls, fear of falling, physical activity and quality of life.
Reducing falls in the elderly remains a major challenge. We believe that with its strong focus on a both systematic and realistic fall prevention strategy adapted to primary care setting PreFalls will be a valuable addition to the scientific literature in the field.
Homeopathy is often sought by patients with depression. In classical homeopathy, the treatment consists of two main elements: the case history and the prescription of an individually selected homeopathic remedy. Previous data suggest that individualized homeopathic Q-potencies were not inferior to the antidepressant fluoxetine in a sample of patients with moderate to severe depression. However, the question remains whether individualized homeopathic Q-potencies and/or the type of the homeopathic case history have a specific therapeutical effect in acute depression as this has not yet been investigated. The study aims to assess the two components of individualized homeopathic treatment for acute depression, i.e., to investigate the specific effect of individualized Q-potencies versus placebo and to investigate the effect of different approaches to the homeopathic case history.
A randomized, partially double-blind, placebo-controlled, four-armed trial using a 2 × 2 factorial design with a six-week study duration per patient will be performed. 228 patients diagnosed with major depression (moderate episode) by a psychiatrist will be included. The primary endpoint is the total score on the 17-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale after six weeks. Secondary end points are: Hamilton Depression Rating Scale total score after two and four weeks; response and remission rates, Beck Depression inventory total score, quality of life and safety at two, four and six weeks. Statistical analyses will be by intention-to-treat. The main endpoint will be analysed by a two-factorial analysis of covariance. Within this model generalized estimation equations will be used to estimate differences between verum and placebo, and between both types of case history.
For the first time this study evaluates both the specific effect of homeopathic medicines and of a homeopathic case taking in patients with depression. It is an attempt to deal with the challenges of homeopathic research and the results might be useful information in the current discussion about the evidence on homeopathy
While several recent large randomized trials found clinically relevant effects of acupuncture over no treatment or routine care, blinded trials comparing acupuncture to sham interventions often reported only minor or no differences. This raises the question whether (sham) acupuncture is associated with particularly potent nonspecific effects. We aimed to investigate the size of nonspecific effects associated with acupuncture interventions.
MEDLINE, Embase, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Clinical Trials and reference lists were searched up to April 2010 to identify randomized trials of acupuncture for any condition, including both sham and no acupuncture control groups. Data were extracted by one reviewer and verified by a second. Pooled standardized mean differences were calculated using a random effects model with the inverse variance method.
Thirty-seven trials with a total of 5754 patients met the inclusion criteria. The included studies varied strongly regarding patients, interventions, outcome measures, methodological quality and effect sizes reported. Among the 32 trials reporting a continuous outcome measure, the random effects standardized mean difference between sham acupuncture and no acupuncture groups was -0.45 (95% confidence interval, -0.57, -0.34; I2 = 54%; Egger's test for funnel plot asymmetry, P = 0.25). Trials with larger effects of sham over no acupuncture reported smaller effects of acupuncture over sham intervention than trials with smaller nonspecific effects (β = -0.39, P = 0.029).
Sham acupuncture interventions are often associated with moderately large nonspecific effects which could make it difficult to detect small additional specific effects. Compared to inert placebo interventions, effects associated with sham acupuncture might be larger, which would have considerable implications for the design and interpretation of clinical trials.
The purpose of clinical trials of acupuncture is to help clinicians and patients make decisions about treatment. Yet this is not straightforward: some trials report acupuncture to be superior to sham (placebo) acupuncture while others show evidence that acupuncture is superior to usual care but not sham, and still others conclude that acupuncture is no better than usual care. Meta-analyses of these trials tend to come to somewhat indeterminate conclusions. This appears to be because, until recently, acupuncture research was dominated by small trials of questionable quality. The Acupuncture Trialists' Collaboration, a group of trialists, statisticians and other researchers, was established to synthesize patient-level data from several recently published large, high-quality trials.
There are three distinct phases to the Acupuncture Trialists Collaboration: a systematic review to identify eligible studies; collation and harmonization of raw data; statistical analysis. To be eligible, trials must have unambiguous allocation concealment. Eligible pain conditions are osteoarthritis; chronic headache (tension or migraine headache); shoulder pain; and non-specific back or neck pain. Once received, patient-level data will undergo quality checks and the results of prior publications will be replicated. The primary analysis will be to determine the effect size of acupuncture. Each trial will be evaluated by analysis of covariance with the principal endpoint as the dependent variable and, as covariates, the baseline score for the principal endpoint and the variables used to stratify randomization. The effect size for acupuncture from each trial - that is, the coefficient and standard error from the analysis of covariance - will then be entered into a meta-analysis. We will compute effect sizes separately for comparisons of acupuncture with sham acupuncture, and acupuncture with no acupuncture control for each pain condition. Other analyses will investigate the impact of different sham techniques, styles of acupuncture or frequency and duration of treatment sessions.
Individual patient data meta-analysis of high-quality trials will provide the most reliable basis for treatment decisions about acupuncture. Above all, however, we hope that our approach can serve as a model for future studies in acupuncture and other complementary therapies.
The use of placebo interventions outside clinical trials is ethically, professionally and legally controversial. Little is known about the frequency and circumstances of placebo use in clinical practice. Our aim was to summarize the available empirical studies addressing these issues.
We searched PubMed and EMBASE from inception to July 2009 in order to identify cross-sectional surveys, qualitative or longitudinal studies among health care professionals, students or patients which investigated at least one of the following issues - frequency of placebo use or attitudes to, or motivations for, the use of placebo interventions. At least two reviewers extracted information on the study methods, participants and findings. Descriptive summaries were prepared in an iterative process by at least two reviewers per study.
Twenty-two studies from 12 different countries met the inclusion criteria. Most studies had relevant shortcomings. The proportion of respondents reporting that they had applied 'pure' placebos (for example, saline injection) during their professional life varied between 17% and 80% among physicians and between 51% and 100% among nurses, but it seems that the actual frequency of such use seems to be rare. The use of 'impure' or 'active' placebos (for example, antibiotics for viral infections) is likely to be much more frequent. However, it is impossible to make a reliable estimation because there is no agreement of what an impure placebo might be. Studies using qualitative methods or asking participants to judge case examples suggest that motivations and attitudes towards placebo use are complex and health care providers are often faced with a dilemma.
Although the available evidence is incomplete and confusing at times there can be little doubt that the prevalence of placebo use outside of clinical trials is not negligible and that views and attitudes on placebos use differ considerably among individuals, both health care professionals and patients. Further research is needed to clarify these issues.
On November 8–9, 2007, the Society for Acupuncture Research (SAR) hosted an international conference to mark the tenth anniversary of the landmark National Institutes of Health Consensus Development Conference on Acupuncture. More than 300 acupuncture researchers, practitioners, students, funding agency personnel, and health policy analysts from 20 countries attended the SAR meeting held at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD. This paper summarizes important invited lectures in the area of clinical research. Specifically, included are: a review of the recently conducted German trials and observational studies on low-back pain (LBP), gonarthrosis, migraine, and tension-type headache (the Acupuncture Research Trials and the German Acupuncture Trials, plus observational studies); a systematic review of acupuncture treatment for knee osteoarthritis (OA); and an overview of acupuncture trials in neurologic conditions, LBP, women's health, psychiatric disorders, and functional bowel disorders. A summary of the use of acupuncture in cancer care is also provided. Researchers involved in the German trials concluded that acupuncture is effective for treating chronic pain, but the correct selection of acupuncture points seems to play a limited role; no conclusions could be drawn about the placebo aspect of acupuncture, due to the design of the studies. Overall, when compared to sham, acupuncture did not show a benefit in treating knee OA or LBP, but acupuncture was better than a wait-list control and standard of care, respectively. In women's health, acupuncture has been found to be beneficial for patients with premenstrual syndrome, dysmenorrhea, several pregnancy-related conditions, and nausea in females who have cancers. Evidence on moxibustion for breech presentation, induction of labor, and reduction of menopausal symptoms is still inconclusive. In mental health, evidence for acupuncture's efficacy in treating neurologic and functional bowel disorder is still inconclusive. For chronic cancer-related problems such as pain, acupuncture may work well in stand-alone clinics; however, for acute or treatment-related symptoms, integration of acupuncture care into a busy and complex clinical environment is unlikely, unless compelling evidence of a considerable patient benefit can be established.