In October 2000 the German Federal Committee of Physicians and Health Insurers recommended that special Model Projects on Acupuncture (“Modellvorhaben Akupunktur”) be developed in order to determine the evidence-based role of acupuncture in the treatment of certain illnesses. This paper presents a summary of the main randomised controlled trials performed as part of these projects, and the associated economic analyses.
Overall the results show that acupuncture is effective in practice for a range of chronic conditions, and it seems likely to have acceptable cost utility (at least at a rate of €35 per session). Sham acupuncture, in the form of minimal off-point needling in a therapeutic context, also appears to be effective, being no different to prophylactic medication in migraine, and superior to guideline-based standard care in chronic low back pain.
In patients recruited to acupuncture trials, the response to treatment does not differ between those that agree to be randomised and those that do not. This suggests that the results of the pragmatic Acupuncture in Routine Care studies are applicable to patients from the general population who express a preference for acupuncture.
In conclusion, acupuncture appears to be effective in a range of chronic conditions and it seems to have acceptable cost-effectiveness in Western health economic terms. These programmes of research do not confirm the hypothesis that needling at specific points is essential to achieve satisfactory clinical effects of acupuncture. Sham acupuncture, in the form of minimal off-point needling in a therapeutic context, is unlikely to be an inactive placebo.
In April 2006, the German health authorities decided that acupuncture would be included into routine reimbursement by social health insurance funds for chronic low back pain and chronic osteoarthritis of the knee.
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Competing interests: MC is medical director of the BMAS. This role involves running short training courses for regulated healthcare professionals in Western medical acupuncture.
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