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January, 2014, Vol. 14, Issue 01

Economic Evaluation of CAM/CIM Practices

By Massage Therapy Foundation Contributor

Contributed by MK Brennan MS, RN, LMBT; Jolie Haun, PhD EdS, LMT, April Neufeld, BS, LMT

In this month's review, the Massage Therapy Foundation's writing group selected a study done in 2012 that evaluates the economy of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), also referred to as Complementary and Integrative Medicine (CIM).

This review is timely given the non-discrimination section of the Affordable Care Act is set to go into effect on January 1, 2014. Section 2706 provides a possibility for insurance reimbursement for massage therapy: "A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall not discriminate with respect to participation under the plan or coverage against any health care provider who is acting within the scope of that provider's license or certification under applicable State law."

The objective of the review done by Herman et al., was to establish the value of complementary and integrative therapies within the health reform context. Numerous sources including PubMed, CINAHL, AMED, Psych Info, Web of Science and EMBASE, were searched for information published between 2001 and 2010. The Cochrane complementary and alternative medical group was used for determining the criteria for studies and all of the sources reporting economic outcomes were reviewed with the terms "integrative," "integrated" and "collaborative" medicine added to the search. Three hundred, thirty-eight (338) economic evaluations were identified and 204 of those were published between 2001 and 2010. One hundred, fourteen (114) of the 204 were full economic evaluations with 90% of those being studies of single therapies. Only one study compared usual care to usual care with access to CIM practitioners.

evidence - Copyright – Stock Photo / Register Mark Surveys done in 1990, 1997 and 2007 show estimated out of pocket expenditures of $14 billion, $27 billion and $34 billion for CAM to treat principal medical conditions. This indicates an increase in the use of CAM for healthcare and the willingness of individuals to pay for it. The cost-effectiveness of CAM use, however, has not been well defined. As the authors explain, "Economic evaluations allow costs to be included, alongside data on safety and effectiveness, in healthcare policy decisions. As healthcare costs rise, the availability of these economic evaluations becomes increasingly important to the formulation of disease management strategies which are both clinically effective and financially responsible." This type of evaluation provides massage therapists and other CAM practitioners information that is valuable when meeting with conventional healthcare providers, insurance providers, policy makers, consumers and other stakeholders.

Articles were categorized as full or partial economic reviews. A full evaluation compared the costs, as well as the outcomes, of two or more therapeutic treatments for the same population. A partial evaluation was one that focused on cost-identification or cost-comparison. The authors used the 35-item British Medical Journal checklist to capture components of internal validity and transferability of information. They "also chose five quality criteria by which to identify a subset of full economic evaluations to highlight as being of most interest to policy makers." These include a comparison of CAM to usual and customary care; use of at least one recognized perspective such as hospital or third-party payer; randomized control studies or non-randomized ones that are adjusted to address baseline differences; a measured outcome unless the study was a modeling one that used the data from previously published studies; a sensitivity analysis since assumptions made can factor into uncertainties in economic evaluations.

Items reviewed from the studies that met the above criteria included: "treatment and study duration, primary clinical and economic outcome measures, the setting in which treatment took place, study design and sample size, the type and perspective (i.e., the point of view used to define costs) of the economic analysis, and incremental cost effectiveness of the CIM alternative compared to usual care."

Results of the analysis are mixed. Thirty-one of the full economic studies were considered a higher-quality than the others because they met all five of the study criteria. These indicate potential cost effectiveness and even cost savings across a number of CIM therapies and populations. "Of the 56 comparisons made in the higher-quality studies, 16 (29%) show a health improvement with cost savings for the CIM therapy versus usual care. Study quality of the cost-utility analyses (CUAs) of CIM was generally comparable to that seen in CUAs across all medicine according to several measures, and the quality of the cost-saving studies was slightly, but not significantly, lower than those showing cost increases (85% vs 88%, p=0.460)."

Other studies reviewed provide information for specific practices and/or settings. For example, cost savings were seen with acupuncture for breech presentations in pregnant women and also for low back pain. Other cost savings were found with some supplements, naturopathic care, Tai Chi and manual therapy.

The methods used in this article are comprehensive and applied multiple measures of study quality in the review of the articles. However, the authors recognize some study limitations, including: 1. The reviewers not blinded to journals and article authors; and 2. Publication bias was not assessed. However, the authors suggest for the purposes of this review, it is not clear if either of these limitations is relevant.

This report and those like it are valuable to those interested in making a case for the inclusion of CAM in healthcare settings or insurance reimbursement as well as consumer awareness. As the use of CAM increases and policies change to increase reimbursement of CAM care, economical evaluations of this type are needed to determine the use and cost effectiveness of CAM in the healthcare setting.

To learn more about the economic impact of CAM, you can review the Massage Therapy Foundation article archives, read accepted MTF Research Grant abstracts, or search Pub Med for CAM/CIM cost analysis studies.


  • Patricia M Herman, Beth L Poindexter, Claudia M Witt, David M Eisenberg: Are complementary therapies and integrative care cost-effective? A systematic review of economic evaluations. Downloaded from on October 9, 2013. Published by

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