The King's Fund

Assessing complementary practice

  • Format: Printed copy
  • Author(s): Professor Dame Carol Black
  • Publication date: 10 Aug 2009

Despite the increasing popularity and use of complementary practice, it is difficult to assess its effectiveness. Lack of research – and lack of agreement on research methods – has led to criticism from branches of conventional medicine.

The King’s Fund set up an advisory group, chaired by Professor Dame Carol Black, to consider how to develop and apply a robust evidence base for complementary practice. The group drew on the experience of a wide range of academics, researchers, practitioners and funders, much of it shared in a two-day participative conference.

This report of the group’s deliberations points out that complementary practice presents researchers with a unique set of challenges:

  • how to take account of the context in which the intervention is made
  • how to reflect the importance attached to treating the whole person
  • how to accommodate the fact that the relationship between cause and effect may not be straightforward
  • how to understand ‘placebo’ or non-specific effects.