Survey: 23 percent of Zurich doctors prescribe homeopathy, but many of them believe it to be a placebo

A survey of 1,500 Zurich canton doctors reported in the Swiss Medical Weekly found that out of the respondents, 23% had prescribed homeopathic "remedies" but only 42% actually believe in homeopathy (a discredited medieval quack remedy that involves giving water to patients that is supposed to "remember" having been in contact with molecules of allegedly helpful compounds that have been diluted out of the dose); 35% of the rest prescribe on the basis that the placebo effect might help their patients.

This is disturbing on two counts: first, that so many doctors believe in homeopathy; and second, that even more doctors are willing to commit a gross breach of medical ethics in prescribing placebos without informed consent.

Only about 27 percent strongly bought into the principles behind homeopathy, including the miasm theory that "noxious influences" cause diseases. And only 19 percent bought into more modern twists, such as the incomprehensible idea that water molecules can have memories.

About 35 percent of prescribers said they thought homeopathic treatments only worked because of placebo effects. On the flip side, around just 23 percent of prescribers thought there was adequate scientific evidence to back up efficacy of homeopathic treatments.

Prescribers were most likely to endorse homeopathic treatments either when symptoms were vague and a clear cause couldn't be identified, or after conventional treatments failed. But among both prescribers and non-prescribers, 71 percent of survey takers agreed that homeopathy could effectively generate a placebo effect.

Beliefs, endorsement and application of homeopathy disclosed: a survey among ambulatory care physicians
[Stefan Markun, Marc Maeder, Thomas Rosemann and Sima Djalali/Swiss Medical Weekly]

In Swiss study, only half of homeopathic prescribers thought it actually worked
[Beth Mole/Ars Technica]