Another nail in the coffin of Medicine's own Zombie reveals
Professor Paul Glasziou, a leading academic in evidence based medicine at Bond University, was the chair of a working party by the National Health and Medical Research Council which was tasked with reviewing the evidence of 176 trials of homeopathy to establish if the treatment is valid.
A total of 57 systematic reviews, containing the 176 individual studies, focused on 68 different health conditions - and found there to be no evidence homeopathy was more effective than placebo on any.
Still it persists, not only in the UK but also in the US. And a simple google search about health insurance payments for homeopathy will reveal that the homeopathy industry is very busy writing long winded explanations of how to con your insurance company into covering homeopathy.(Key trick: have your homeopath recommend a Nurse Practitioner which have prescription authority in many states, and who will write you a prescription for homeopathy along with a statement of medical necessity).
Professor Glasziou writes in his BMJ Blog:
One surprise to me was the range of conditions that homeopathy had been evaluated in, including rheumatoid arthritis, radiodermatitis, stomatitis (inflammation of the mouth) due to chemotherapy, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. What subsequently shocked me more was that organizations promote homeopathy for infectious conditions, such as AIDS in Africa or malaria.
One wag posted to the Blog comments:
Prof Glaziou, I've been washing a homeopathy bottle every day for the last month, but the residue just keeps on getting stronger. Any advice?
There's one condition where I think homoeopathy might actually help: Hypochondria. After all, if the illness is imaginary, I don't see why an equally imaginary cure shouldn't help.
And the side effects of placebo (obviously including homeopathy) are the best in class. Not something to overlook.
For some the idea of homeopathy means they are helping themselves independent of a Dr. This gives them a feeling of being in control of their own treatment.
For some the idea of homeopathy means they are helping themselves independent of a Dr. This gives them a feeling of being in control of their own treatment.
So kind of like self harming then. Where people injure themselves deliberately so they can wrestle a little bit of control back into their lives. Quite accurate really. Taking water to cure a treatable illness is indeed self harm.
It might help, but it is not effective. The definition of effectiveness (efficacy) is superiority against placebo. Placebo is as effective as homeopathy in this case. As a matter of fact homeopathy is identical to placebo as you dilute a substance until it only contains the dilutor when placebo is the dilutor to begin with, qed.
If you are not actually ill, a real medicine may actually make you worse (through its side effects). A medicine that does nothing is more effective than one that makes you worse.
Why, oh why didn't they think to test homoeopathy's effectiveness at treating dehydration?
I am so happy for the homeos! This is a great advance! I can remember only a few years ago that homeopathy was ineffective for a lot more than 68 conditions! Pretty so they will have it down to one or two things that homeopathic remedies are not effective for, probably gullibility and healthcare fraud.
I am so happy for the homeos!
This sounds like a lead in to a gay marriage joke. As a homeopathic couple the bad news is some cake bakers give em a hard time, but the good news is they can now get married everywheres and their contraception is 100% effective despite merely being distilled water.
If you don't find this joke humorous, thats OK because its a homeopathic joke and the dilution factor of the humor is really high, which is supposed to make it really powerfully humorous. If you just believe its humorous, then it actually will be more effective than a placebo joke. Just don't tell the NHMRC because they made their conclusion that this joke isn't funny before they even read the actual joke, and any reports of laughter were spiked as being unreliable reports. Which makes perfect sense at this ridiculously early time of morning.
Right, stop it. This jokes got silly. Started off with a nice little idea about grannies attacking young men, but now it's got silly. This man's hair is too long for a vicar too. These signs are pretty badly made. Right, now for a complete change of mood.
(Cut to man in dirty raincoat.)
Man In Dirty Raincoat: I've heard of unisex but I've never had it.
Help me out here, world citizens:Is there anywhere around the globe (outside UK's Nation Health Service) where this nonsense is accepted as legit?...and do UK private insurers cover this?
-- OriginalOwner_ [soylentnews.org]
I live in New Zealand, which has a similar health system to the UK.
My wife used to use a lot of Homeopathic treatments, and would complain to her Dr. when she had to pay full price, (most drugs are heavily subsidized here).
Then she got sick. I mean a real illness that actually affected her life, not just a cold, or "stress".
After that she accepted the prescriptions for proper, tested drugs. These were subsidized however and cost us something like $10 a month.
They also work.
I'm at a loss as to why anybody would sell homeopatic medicine. Surely the profit margins would be greater if they simply sold it as bottled water?
Sure, it's effective! It's just that the positive results are diluted down to 1 case per 100,000,000.
for poll-based "scientific" evidence
If you want to sound smart when you discuss something perhaps it's best to educate yourself [nhmrc.gov.au] on the topic first. There was not one single "poll" used as evidence anywhere. Polls and surveys are not considered scientific enough to stand the rigors of evidence based medicine selection criteria. Evidence based medicine studies are entirely based on objective, not subjective, results. The only subjective part of such a review is deciding where you set the bar to disqualify studies as not being rigorous enough and that bar is usually set higher rather than lower. You can read all about the methods used and the exclusion criteria for this review in the linked pdf I provided.
See: "Placebos Are Getting More Effective. Drugmakers Are Desperate to Know Why."http://www.wired.com/medtech/drugs/magazine/17-09/ff_placebo_effect?currentPage=all [wired.com]
And many drugs have nasty side effects and are even less effective:http://www.pdfernhout.net/to-james-randi-on-skepticism-about-mainstream-science.html [pdfernhout.net]
First do no harm...
And many homeopaths provide counseling about nutrition and lifestyle issues that underlie most illness.
That is part of why mainstream medicine needs to put them out of businesses to ensure its profits:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flexner_Report#Impact_on_Alternative_Medicine [wikipedia.org]
Studies have shown that drugs used in conventional medicine are safe and effective.
Yesterday my dad took a IV of poison. It is either that or let the cancer kill him (chemical exposure).
Dose makes the poison. A couple of grains of salt will not kill you. Much like a couple of puffs on a cigarette will not instantly give you cancer. However, if you weigh yourself in kg and then take that times 3 you will have the amount of salt you have to eat in 1 sitting to probably kill you. Much like smoking 2 packs a day will pretty much give you cancer.
so, weight = 90 kilos X 3 = 270 kilos,so if i eat 270 kilos of salt a day, i will die ? ? ?all righty then, i'll shoot for keeping it under 250 kilos/day ! !!
The title is wrong. Its as effective as a placebo which is fairly effective for tons of medical conditions.
The stereotypical pediatrician "GTFO of my office with your viral ear infection, here have a script for antibiotics, now leave".
Due to the enormous dangers of antibiotic over prescription, properly licensed and regulated and tracked, homeopathy could be the ideal treatment for viral ear infections, viral cough/pneumonia, common cold, short term non-serious digestive problems. Maybe its good for extremely minor psych problems.
Then you have the side issue of very profitable psych medications that are less effective than placebo (I know at least one indecisive MD who can't make up her mind if a "real" placebo would generate side effects at the same rate as real medication...)
Ah ha! Found it! This is kind of BS-ish. I had to click like 5 times from the clickbait article to find the actual study at
First of all see page 16.
They found 14 studies where homeopathy was more effective than placebo, but they didn't like those results so spiked them and we're getting reports of "no studies" and all that bullshit of the highest level. I don't like the weather report that says its gonna rain this morning so I'll spike it and tell everyone there's no report of rain this morning, therefore the wetness on your face isn't rainwater because I said so. What a pile of BS. Note that I don't agree with the "science" of homeopathy, I laugh at its attempts at chemistry, but its opposition are apparently biased corrupt liars, which doesn't help their case.
Its like trying to prove the Catholic Church is always nice guys by providing examples such as the Inquisition and Crusades and the recent molestation coverups. Thats kinda missing the point that was trying to be made, even if on long enough term average the Catholics are in fact nice guys. I mean, its the old saying that with friends like this, who needs enemies?
Anyway, see page 18-20 for the list of illnesses.
Some of the data is extremely damning if you go in with an open mind instead of deciding the conclusion before starting the study, like this one. For example, they get pretty defensive about how its so wrong that homeopathy is effective at treating burns... well, duh... keep the patient hydrated, flush the wound with sterile water, what a shocker than homeopathy "works" even if it didn't meet the pre-determined result. You could do stupider things to a burn. And lying to a patient about how the magic water will help heal faster and help with the considerable pain is a win.
Ditto the anxiety results. There's a lot of ritual and pomp for any medical procedure and a calm voice and calm surroundings and affirmation goes a long way, even if the patient is basically just drinking an expensive glass of water.
Homeopathy would get a lot better reception with doctors if they changed the name to water therapy and dropped the scientifically illiterate theories and made it officially talking to a psych or religious leader or astrological seer while sipping a nice COTS bottled water. That seems to do sick people a lot of good. Yes its quite useless medically if you have a broken leg or cancer, but generally speaking as an addition to "actual treatment" nothing bad ever happened by drinking a glass of water while talking to a shrink or priest. And I'm sure like most medical stuff, homeopathic products are overpriced, so just use bottled water.
but they didn't like those results
They didn't like those results. No. They didn't like the studies: the design was flawed. It's kind of like if you have a room full of all the engineers that helped design and build the World Trade Center telling you about the loading of the steel beams in the WTC and how it would not be able to support the weight of 30 stories if it was heated above 1000 degrees C and you'd have structural failure, and then you went and rounded up a bunch of hobos and most of them swore that because the building fell straight down it must have been a controlled demolition. At one point you have to choose which group to believe. They chose to believe the former and throw out the latter.
Homeopathy would get a lot better reception with doctors if they changed the name to water therapy
Not true. I can't speak for all doctors but I can speak for myself. I think homeopathy has its use for people who want to use it. I also think it is irresponsible and anti-ethical for practitioners and salesmen of homeopathy to create false expectations or to mislead their customers.
I am also no fan of homeopathy, but want people to hold "mainstream" medicine to the same skeptical standards. The standards used here are pretty damn low, and they are still much stricter than the usual drug gets. I mean an alternative title would be "Lack of funding for large RCTs limits number of positive RCTs using homeopathic treatments".
It is well known fact that all you need to do is keep trying over and over until you get a statistically significant result, that criteria is meaningless. Counting the number significant vs not is also meaningless because people trained in the dark art of medical research know not to publish "negative" results, while those studying homeopathy probably dont know any better or care. This is called the file drawer effect. The guy running this study seems unaware of these issues.
but want people to hold "mainstream" medicine to the same skeptical standards
Agreed. And today everything is complicated - much more than ever before. It's difficult to stay current even in a narrow, specialized field of medicine, much more in broader general practice. And unfortunately we're learning that snake oil salesmen also exist in the form of pharmaceutical companies - even large, established and legitimate ones. Previously accepted drugs and treatment methods have come into question. Pharmaceutical companies have been caught doing very unethical [the-scientist.com] things to push their drugs. Some claims have been proven falsified. Even in mainstream medicine. A doctor simply doesn't have time to stay on top of all of that and hope to try to catch out these charlatans at the same time - usually when a pharmaceutical company representative tells you about this great new treatment you take them at face value because they are supposed to be professionals you can trust.
But this is the whole point behind evidence based medicine. Some people dedicate themselves to looking back at what we're doing and asking "is it REALLY working?". Not only for homeopathy, but for previously common and accepted medical procedures. We should never lose sight of that - after all the goal is not to push treatments and pills onto people, but to actually help them get better.
But I will tell you though it's very hard as a physician to see a patient come in that you know for sure you could have helped but who now is beyond help because instead of coming to you they spent the last 6 months or so using homeopathy or some other thing. It's a shame and it's hard to deal with. It makes you angry and it happens quite often, unfortunately. But modern medicine has moved beyond being this sort of "paternalistic" profession where we tell people what to do and how to live their lives. Nowadays we're supposed to recognize that individuals have every right to choose their own treatment or even no treatment at all. We ourselves cannot recommend or allow inappropriate treatments, but what the patient chooses to do is all part of patient autonomy.
But modern medicine has moved beyond being this sort of "paternalistic" profession where we tell people what to do and how to live their lives. Nowadays we're supposed to recognize that individuals have every right to choose their own treatment or even no treatment at all. We ourselves cannot recommend or allow inappropriate treatments, but what the patient chooses to do is all part of patient autonomy.
no, you can still tell your patients how to live their lives - thats part of your job - but you are not responsible if your patient doesn't follow your advice, ie, your patient can't sue you because they got cancer after you advised them to quit smoking. your responsibility is to make sure your patients get all the information they need to make the best choice and to know the risks associated with each choice, but they're responsible for making their own choices and accepting the consequences of those choices.
no, you can still tell your patients how to live their lives - thats part of your job
No, I can suggest to them what my profession scientifically (ie demonstrated through research and literature) believes to be their best options. I "tell" them nothing. There's a fine difference, but it's there. I give advice, I don't tell people what to do.
your responsibility is to make sure your patients get all the information they need to make the best choice and to know the risks associated with each choice, but they're responsible for making their own choices and accepting the consequences of those choices.
Yes, this part I agree completely. But once again the difference is that before, the doctor would speak to a patient with the authority of a parent towards a child. "This is the best option for you - take it or leave it". Now, the doctor speaks to the patient as a professional adviser to a client. "What I recommend you do is this, for this reason and that reason. If you don't do this, then probably X will happen and... etc". There is a real difference there.
you're confusing "telling" with "ordering". you tell them - give them the information - but can't order them to do anything. and yes, your personal feelings, ethics, and morals have no place in patient treatment, just cold, objective information. it doesn't matter what your personal feelings are about, lets say abortion, because its not your life, if the patient is seeking one then its your duty to help them get all the information and risks as well as help them be as safe as possible during the procedure, if they choose to get it done, via referrals to specialists or whatever. self-sovereignty is the human right that still gets infringed upon more than any others, even though its probably the most critical of all of them.
I'm sure like most medical stuff, homeopathic products are overpriced, so just use bottled water.
Ah but there is scientific evidence that expensive placebos work better than cheaper ones:http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/05/health/research/05placebo.html?_r=0 [nytimes.com]
The pills had a strong placebo effect in both groups. But 85 percent of those using the expensive pills reported significant pain relief, compared with 61 percent on the cheaper pills. The investigators corrected for each person’s individual level of pain tolerance.
another study: http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-expensive-placebos-work-better-20150127-story.html [latimes.com]
Both of the placebos improved motor function compared with a base line test. But when patients got the $1,500-per-dose placebo, their improvement was 9% greater than when they got the $100-per-dose placebo, the researchers reported.
So if the story's study didn't "administer" the homeopathic treatment "properly" (involving $$$) naturally it wouldn't do better than a placebo ;).
Its as effective as a placebo which is fairly effective for tons of medical conditions.
That's not the problem. Everyone has the right to choose what to do about their illness. The problem is that homeopathy is MARKETED as better than placebo. Which is false.
It's not false if the treatment costs more than the average placebo.http://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-expensive-placebos-work-better-20150127-story.html [latimes.com]
In another test, 67% of the patients were judged “very good” or having “marked improvement” after they took the expensive placebo, compared with 58% of patients after they took the purportedly cheap placebo.
revious studies have shown that pill size and color also affect people’s perceptions of effectiveness. In one, people rated black and red capsules as “strongest” and white ones as “weakest.”
Placebos can work even if you know you're taking a placebo:http://www.nhs.uk/news/2015/07July/Pages/The-placebo-effect-can-still-work-even-if-people-know-its-a-placebo.aspx [www.nhs.uk]http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/placebos-work-even-when-you-know-10-12-23/ [scientificamerican.com](the second study with sugar pills might be flawed though, since sugar is far from an inert substance in my opinion).
 Perhaps researchers using sugar as a "placebo" is why placebos seem to be getting stronger in some cases: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26307858 [nih.gov]http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34572482 [bbc.com]It's possible that more people are addicted/sensitive to sugar nowadays so more people experience the effect where the pain-relief from getting a sugar placebo is combined with the "addict relief" of getting sugar.
That is correct. The marketing is precisely what makes these treatments effective.
The problem is as Dunbal related in another fork of this thread: when people go to homeopathic remedies before they go to more effective medical treatments.
The problem is not that homeopathic remedies are marketed as better than placebos. They are better placebos -- for people who believe that they are. The problem is when homeopathic remedies are incorrectly marketed as better than non-placebo treatments.
Homeopathy is effective because the Pareto principle [wikipedia.org] also applies to illness. Approximately 80% of all illnesses are self limited and you will feel better all by yourself with absolutely no treatment. So if you visit a homeopath, a witch doctor, a bad allopathic physician ("regular" doctor), an acupuncturist, a clairvoyant or whatever, 80% of the time you will get better. And you will attribute this recovery to the method you used. It is very, very hard to be a bad physician (although some do actually manage it). Likewise, it is very hard to be a bad homeopath.
Speaking for myself I'm not against homeopathy because whatever makes a person FEEL better (whether it actually makes them better or not) is an important part of healing, medicine, and being human. However I wish homeopaths and other "alternative" medicine practitioners were trained to the point where they can recognize where they will NOT be able to help a patient, and send them to someone who can if that's possible.
... However I wish homeopaths and other "alternative" medicine practitioners were trained to the point where they can recognize where they will NOT be able to help a patient, and send them to someone who can if that's possible.
I'd extend this to "regular" doctors too, but don't have any stats to back it up.
I do have this recent anecdote: My mother had tremors and other neurological problems that started some months after heart valve repair surgery. Note that, before the surgery, she was easily tired out (due to valve leakage) but otherwise in great shape, no other complaints and no history of major illness.
When her recovery from surgery apparently stalled after several months, her long time GP diagnosed "age related" tremors and blamed all symptoms on age (mid-80s). When she asked about Parkinson's (because that is one well known source of tremors), this GP had a nurse practitioner give her a "test" (hand writing analysis) and blew her off, said there was no point in looking further than age-related problems.
She continued to feel that "something is wrong with me" as her energy level, balance, and coordination continued to go down hill over 2+ years. She was getting close to not being able to live independently, needed a lot of help from family to keep going. Dumped the long time GP 5 months ago and switched to a new one. He started from scratch and eventually offered a list of symptoms for Parkinson's which Mom said all lined up with her experience. Bottom line, she is night-into-day better after a 6 weeks of the Parkinson's meds (the dose is slowly ramped up). And the best part (for me) is that after ~3 years, she is smiling again.
So far, a happy ending...and we all have a desire (suppressed, so far) to send a nasty letter to the original GP.
I'm glad your mother is now receiving the appropriate treatment and that it's working for her. I can offer another personal anecdote of my own. I am a physician. Before I entered med school I had an incident which involved severe chest and later shoulder pain. I went to the ER and was seen by the duty physician. He performed a cardiac enzyme test and noted some alteration consistent with a heart attack however my pain had been going on for a few days and the alteration in the test was slight. But considering my age (I was 26), my normal electrocardiogram, and what in those days was not a very specific or elevated cardiac enzyme test (they hadn't invented Troponin T/I yet, just CK-MB and DHL) he said it probably wasn't a heart attack but he sent me to a cardiologist just to be sure. The cardiologist saw me a few weeks later, performed a stress test, sort of chuckled and said I was just "out of shape" and my pain was probably stress.
Fast forward a few years, I'm now 30 years old and studying at med school in an entirely different country. One Friday, once again I have severe chest pain in the shower. I feel weak, short of breath and I have cold sweats. The pain is also in my throat and lower jaw. I call an ambulance and end up in a hospital, where they diagnose a heart attack. I stay in the hospital over the weekend. On Monday the attending cardiologist comes, looks over my chart, my normal electrocardiogram, and says I was too young to have a heart attack. It was probably stress. So they discharge me from hospital that day and schedule a stress test. That Thursday I'm feeling fine, I go do the stress test in the morning. Everything is pretty normal. "You're just out of shape, it's probably stress".
As I'm driving home, I feel chest pain. When I get home, the pain increases to the point where I'm vomiting. My dad is nearby and he offers to take me to the hospital. I tell him to take me to a different hospital and he does. I get to the ER with a copy of the stress test I did a mere few hours ago, begging them to find the cause of this pain that comes and goes, and to look for something that's not my heart because I've heard quite often now that my heart is fine. I'm in the middle of getting an electrocardiogram when I do a ventricular fibrillation...
So it was my heart after all. I just needed to die in front of a doctor to convince one. Anyway long story short I had bypass surgery in my 30's, I've had a few heart attacks since then, I have 9 stents, a pacemaker/defibrillator, etc. But like Elton John said: "I'm still standing". But the above was just to illustrate that first, medical students and doctors don't really get "preferential treatment" lol, and second, that mistakes can and DO happen. And it sucks for the patient when it does. I understand that no one is perfect, and I try not to fault not one but TWO cardiologists who didn't even suspect heart disease in my diagnosis just because I was so young and my heart attacks didn't result in typical "Q" waves on an EKG. It's sad, but bad doctors do exist, and even good doctors sometimes make mistakes. The trick is in my case to be better than them and try not to make mistakes. Even so looking back at my career I have made a few. I like to think that they have been minor and never resulted in serious problems for a patient. But sometimes it does happen. Errare humanum est. What HAS happened is I have a lot of empathy for sick people now, having been one myself. So it wasn't all bad. In fact, I recommend it to all doctors. Compassion, after all, is supposed to be the hallmark of our profession.
Homeopathy is effective because the Pareto principle also applies to illness. Approximately 80% of all illnesses are self limited and you will feel better all by yourself with absolutely no treatment.
I can see that homeopathy would work by making a person become more disciplined in taking care of themselves while ill. Many illnesses can be cured simply by getting proper rest, fluids and nutrients. If the homeopathic "cure" helps bring a person to proper behavior, something they would not have done otherwise, it can be considered useful.
I wonder to what degree "placebos work" is that if you're paying attention (which people who know they're doing a "medical trial" are liable to do) you can become hypersensitive to the effects of a VERY small amount of sugar -- about a tablet worth -- so if the placebo is a sugar tablet, this could skew results, especially for something like how it was found that "more-expensive placebos work better". Naturally people pay closer attention when there's more money involved!
[Then again, I notice very small effects that most people don't. My doctor has about decided I'm a freak, but has also started to pay attention when I point out some ridiculously minor effect. If you have thyroid patients, you'll find microscopic exam of their thumbnails fascinating, I shit you not.]
They shouldn't use sugar. Sugar isn't an inert substance.
The widespread use of sugar as a placebo may be a reason why placebos seem to be getting stronger in the USA:http://www.nature.com/news/strong-placebo-response-thwarts-painkiller-trials-1.18511 [nature.com]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34572482 [bbc.co.uk]
Perhaps more people in the USA are addicted or sensitive to sugar. Think of the relief many addicts have when they finally get their fix/drug.
That's exactly my point. To be a valid test, placebos must be chemically inert (including being unavailable to gut bacteria). Sugar is about as far from biochemically inert as you can get, and in my experience, even a tiny amount can have an effect.
Everyone who knows my posting history knows my hostility to the "I love Science!... sexually" crowd, the abuse of science into Scientism, scientists declaring they know a lot more than they actually do, all that. This is NOT one of those situations. Homeopathy is sympathetic magic. Period. Science can have nothing to do with it with the possible exception of permitting it as a synonym for placebo when dealing with idiots.
Homeopathy is literally 100% pure water. If there is absolutely any ingredient in it other than dihydrogen monoxide it doesn't count as a homeopathic product, by their own definition of the rules. It is older than knowledge of the atom but it I'm pretty sure that even a ratio of isotopes outside 'normally occurring' would be disallowed.
The idea we have to fund actual research and to publish studies every couple of years announcing the obvious fact that it is merely a fancy word for placebo is a disturbing sign of the notion that our knowledge has so far outstripped our ability to educate the next generation to even a basic understanding of the merest outlines of that knowledge has reached crisis levels.
"Scientist... Sounds a lot like Socialist to me." -- D Trump.
Its a never ending problem of quacks having a lot more money and time than actual scientists.
In a rational system, it would have long ago been declared as fraud, and been ineligible for medical certification or insurance coverage, and people making any health claims for it would have been prosecuted.
But they have a powerful lobby, which descends on any government entity or medical authority that denounces homeopathy, with lawyers and sobbing that nobody wants to take them on. They have been able to get protection written into legislation so they can't be gotten rid of.
There are enough people (even posting in this story) that believe placebos do "work", and we will probably never be able to get rid of it entirely. The truth is the Placebos do NOT work. And people get better over time, simply by believing they are well and stop worrying about things that solve themselves.
And Doctors are perfectly willing to allow that misconception to stand because they are tired of arguing the point and they know they can't fix stupid.
Actually I admit they might need to be able to keep it as a fancy placebo for exactly the 'can't fix stupid' reason you mention. Some people just ain't going to be happy until you give them something. If they have to use a placebo and the patient is ignorant enough to fall for homeopathy there really isn't a safer placebo to use. Problem is if they use that trick they give credibility to it and slightly less ignorant people start believing it since "Doctors prescribe it!"
Well, since water is free essentially free, they can at lease limit the Medicaid/Medicare approved billing rate to the price of an 8 oz bottled water so we don't all have to fund stupid.