Effectiveness gaps: a new concept for evaluating health service and research needs applied to complementary and alternative medicine

J Altern Complement Med. 2004 Aug;10(4):627-32. doi: 10.1089/acm.2004.10.627.


Background: An effectiveness gap (EG) is an area of clinical practice in which available treatments are not fully effective. EGs have not been previously researched. Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) interventions, by definition, are not generally available through normal health care channels. Therefore, if effective, they have the potential to increase achieved community effectiveness.

Aims: A pilot study to determine whether EGs exist, and if so to provide initial data on their nature, frequency, and causes. To obtain preliminary data on whether CAM may offer effective interventions in these clinical areas.

Design: Semistructured telephone interviews; literature search.

Setting: Twenty-two (22) general practitioners (GPs) in London, U.K.

Method: One hundred and fifty-two (152) doctors who had responded to an earlier survey on attitudes to CAM were approached. Respondents were asked to specify EGs and to give reasons why available treatment is unsatisfactory and to estimate the frequency and severity of clinical problems relating to EGs. Sampling was continued to redundancy. A bibliometric study examined the volume and type of published evidence on the effectiveness of CAM interventions in the identified clinical areas.

Results: There was good concordance among respondents on EGs encountered in general/family practice. Seventy-eight (78) clinical problems were cited. EGs are encountered quite frequently: 68 of 78 (85%) of EGs were encountered at least once per month. Musculoskeletal problems were cited by 20 of 22 (90%) of respondents as being affected by EGs. Depression, eczema, chronic pain, and irritable bowel syndrome were also frequently mentioned. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses conclude that there is evidence for the effectiveness of various CAM interventions in most of these areas.

Conclusions: EGs, mapped against evidence, have the potential to inform service development and research policy. Further study should be undertaken: it should incorporate improved sampling and data collection methodology. Specifically, where effective CAM interventions exist but are not being applied, EGs form part of the "avoidable burden of illness" identified by early work on evidence-based medicine. Practice guidelines should incorporate CAM interventions where there is evidence. The CAM research agenda should focus on areas affected by EGs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Complementary Therapies / standards*
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data
  • Family Practice / standards*
  • Family Practice / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Services Needs and Demand / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • London
  • Pilot Projects
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / standards*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / standards*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Time Factors