Complementary medicines

Under the National Health and Medical Research Council Act 1992, NHMRC has a responsibility to inquire into, issue guidelines on, and advise the community on, matters relating to: the improvement of health; the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease; the provision of health care; public health research and medical research; and ethical issues relating to health.

All health treatments, whether conventional, traditional or complementary, should be subject to a rigorous evaluation of the evidence for effectiveness.  Registered health practitioners should act ethically by providing advice and treatment based on the best available evidence, in accordance with their professional standards, and be aware of the evidence base of treatments they provide.  Registered health practitioners should discuss this evidence base with their patient so as to assist them in making informed decisions about their healthcare.

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has been concerned with reports of non-evidence based treatments, including Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM), being used to treat conditions that are chronic, serious, or could become serious, in place of evidence-based treatments.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), also referred to as Complementary Medicine (CM), are broad terms used to describe a wide range of health care medicines and therapies (forms of treatment that do not involve medicines).

In the NHMRC Strategic Plan 2010–2012, ‘examining alternative therapy claims’ was identified as a major health issue for consideration by the organisation, including the provision of research funding. In the current Strategic Plan 2013–2015, NHMRC has broadened its focus to investigate the general issue of ‘Claiming benefits for human health not based on evidence'.

With regard to CAM, NHMRC is undertaking a number of activities that align with its commitment outlined in its Strategic Plan 2013–2015 with the aim of assisting Australians in making informed decisions about their health care. This includes consideration of the potential benefits and risks of each option using the available evidence. Current activities include:

  • Developing a resource for clinicians to facilitate discussion with patients regarding their use of CAM.
  • Continuing to increase knowledge through the funding of investigator-driven research on CAM through NHMRC's competitive, peer-reviewed grant application processes.
  • Reviewing the effectiveness of a range of CAM using established methods for identifying and assessing evidence.

Talking with your patients about Complementary Medicine – a Resource for Clinicians

NHMRC, under the guidance of the Health Care Committee, has developed a resource for clinicians to facilitate discussion with patients regarding their use of CM.

Homeopathy review

NHMRC, under the guidance of the Health Care Committee, has reviewed the evidence for the effectiveness of homeopathy.

Other Activities

Research Funding

NHMRC supports investigator-driven research into CM through its funding schemes such as Project Grants and Research Fellowships. Since 2000, NHMRC has provided more than $86 million in funding for scientific research into complementary medicine and alternative therapies, through competitive, peer reviewed processes.

Development of evidence-based advice

The Office of NHMRC was commissioned by the Department of Health to perform a series of systematic reviews of systematic reviews (overviews) of the scientific literature examining the effectiveness and, where available, the safety and cost effectiveness of a number of natural therapies.

The outcomes of these reviews were provided to the Department to assist them in their review of the Review of the Australian Government Rebate on Private Health Insurance for Natural Therapies.