Objective: To summarise the evidence on the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture.
Methods: We identified full economic evaluations such as cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA), cost-utility analysis (CUA) and cost-benefit analysis (CBA) alongside randomised controlled trials (RCTs) that assessed the consequences and costs of acupuncture for any medical condition. Eleven electronic databases were searched up to March 2011 without language restrictions. Eligible RCTs were assessed using the Cochrane criteria for risk of bias and a modified version of the checklist for economic evaluation. The general characteristics and the results of each economic analysis such as incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) were extracted.
Results: Of 17 included studies, nine were CUAs that measured quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) and eight were CEAs that assessed effectiveness of acupuncture based on improvements in clinical symptoms. All CUAs showed that acupuncture with or without usual care was cost-effective compared with waiting list control or usual care alone, with ICERs ranging from €3011/QALY (dysmenorrhoea) to €22 298/QALY (allergic rhinitis) in German studies, and from £3855/QALY (osteoarthritis) to £9951/QALY (headache) in UK studies. In the CEAs, acupuncture was beneficial at a relatively low cost in six European and Asian studies. All CUAs were well-designed with a low risk of bias, but this was not the case for CEAs.
Conclusions: Overall, this review demonstrates the cost-effectiveness of acupuncture. Despite such promising results, any generalisation of these results needs to be made with caution given the diversity of diseases and the different status of acupuncture in the various countries.