Objective: The aim of this literature review, performed within the framework of the Swiss governmental Program of Evaluation of Complementary Medicine (PEK), was to investigate costs of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).
Materials and methods: A systematic literature search was conducted in 11 electronic databases. All retrieved titles and reference lists were also hand-searched.
Results: 38 publications were found: 23 on CAM of various definitions (medical and non-medical practitioners, over-the-counter products), 13 on homeopathy, 2 on phytotherapy. Studies investigated different kinds of costs (direct or indirect) and used different methods (prospective or retrospective questionnaires, data analyses, cost-effectiveness models). Most studies report 'out of pocket' costs, because CAM is usually not covered by health insurance. Costs per CAM-treatment / patient / month were AUD 7-66, CAD 250 and GBP 13.62 +/- 1.61. Costs per treatment were EUR 205 (range: 15-1,278), USD 414 +/- 269 and USD 1,127. In two analyses phytotherapy proved to be cost-effective. One study revealed a reduction of 1.5 days of absenteeism from work in the CAM group compared to conventionally treated patients. Another study, performed by a health insurance company reported a slight increase in direct costs for CAM. Costs for CAM covered by insurance companies amounted to approximately 0.2-0.5% of the total healthcare budget (Switzerland, 2003). Publications had several limitations, e.g. efficacy of therapies was rarely reported. As compared to conventional patients, CAM patients tend to cause lower costs.
Conclusion: Results suggest lower costs for CAM than for conventional patients, but the limited methodological quality lowers the significance of the available data. Further well-designed studies and models are required.