How TCM may actually be saving Taiwan's NHS a bundle
The most recent Skepdic newsletter contains mention of a report by the BBC on an intriguing scheme being undertaken by Northern Ireland's NHS involving referral of some patients to practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine with the NHS picking up the tab. While it may sound like a load of bollocks on the surface, the scheme promises to drastically reduce the amount of money spent needlessly on people who are not really all that sick, or who may benefit just as well from the placebo effect as from a costly drug.
Scott Sommers recently lamented on Kerim's blog that "no one who is truly ill uses [Taiwan's NHS]" and in another comment suggested that folk remedies available on the NHS represent additional costs. After reading about the scheme in Northern Ireland it struck me that the availability of traditional Chinese medicine on the NHS in Taiwan may actually be saving the government a bundle. Rather than over-prescribing prozac and other expensive pharmaceuticals of dubious efficacy, how's about a packet of dried fungus or a harmless session with an acupuncturist at a fraction of the cost? The patient feels better, the government saves money and the NHS remains in less debt than it would have been otherwise. Many Taiwanese use TCM almost exclusively for minor illnesses and non-illnesses. This is a good thing. The last thing we want is for them to be over at the real hospital being pointlessly prescribed pricey drugs. I never thought I'd hear myself say this but let's hear it for TCM on the National Health Service !
Update (2 March, 2009): This article describes some of the findings from the experiment in Northern Ireland. Eight-one percent of patients reported improvements in physical health after the treatments. So what if it's the good ol' placebo effect? It's saving money and people are happy! "The researchers concluded: 'Not only has this project documented significant health gains, but also the potential economic savings likely to accrue from a reduction in patient use of primary and other health care services, a reduction in prescribing levels and reduced absenteeism from work."