Is use of homeopathy associated with poor prescribing in English primary care? A cross-sectional study
Alex J Walker, Richard Croker, Seb Bacon, Edzard Ernst, Helen J Curtis, Ben Goldacre
Objectives Prescribing of homeopathy still occurs in a small minority of English general practices. We hypothesised that practices that prescribe any homeopathic preparations might differ in their prescribing of other drugs. Design Cross-sectional analysis. Setting English primary care. Participants English general practices. Main outcome measures We identified practices that made any homeopathy prescriptions over six months of data. We measured associations with four prescribing and two practice quality indicators using multivariable logistic regression. Results Only 8.5% of practices (644) prescribed homeopathy between December 2016 and May 2017. Practices in the worst-scoring quartile for a composite measure of prescribing quality (>51.4 mean percentile) were 2.1 times more likely to prescribe homeopathy than those in the best category (<40.3) (95% confidence interval: 1.6–2.8). Aggregate savings from the subset of these measures where a cost saving could be calculated were also strongly associated (highest vs. lowest quartile multivariable odds ratio: 2.9, confidence interval: 2.1–4.1). Of practices spending the most on medicines identified as ‘low value’ by NHS England, 12.8% prescribed homeopathy, compared to 3.9% for lowest spenders (multivariable odds ratio: 2.6, confidence interval: 1.9–3.6). Of practices in the worst category for aggregated price-per-unit cost savings, 12.7% prescribed homeopathy, compared to 3.5% in the best category (multivariable odds ratio: 2.7, confidence interval: 1.9–3.9). Practice quality outcomes framework scores and patient recommendation rates were not associated with prescribing homeopathy (odds ratio range: 0.9–1.2). Conclusions Even infrequent homeopathy prescribing is strongly associated with poor performance on a range of prescribing quality measures, but not with overall patient recommendation or quality outcomes framework score. The association is unlikely to be a direct causal relationship, but may reflect underlying practice features, such as the extent of respect for evidence-based practice, or poorer stewardship of the prescribing budget.