How do homeopathy users perceive homeopathy?
Life expectancy has steadily increased over the last two centuries due to improvements in living standards, education, science and medicine. However, instead of basing health decisions on the best scientific evidence available, millions of people are currently using unsupported complementary and alternative medicines (CAM). The use of CAM is rising worldwide despite the lack of robust scientific evidence for their safety or efficacy. The central concern around the use of CAM is that users might delay or forgo the use of conventional medicine potentially leading to severe health deterioration. Homeopathy, one of the most widely used CAM, is particularly interesting as its proported mode of action is deemed impossible by current scientific knowledge. Moreover, multiple systematic reviews have come to the conclusion that homeopathy is no more effective than a placebo. Homeopathy proponents, however, claim that homeopathic remedies are an effective medical treatment, which could lead to misinformed consent of potential homeopathy users. This research project investigates how homeopathy users perceive homeopathy, especially with regards to its scientific basis. The central question addressed in this thesis is: do homeopathy users in New Zealand use homeopathic remedies because they believe the remedies to be scientifically proven to work? A sequential explanatory mixed methodology was used to answer this question, starting with collection and analysis of quantitative data via a survey. The survey results informed the design of follow-up semi-structured interviews with self-identified homeopathy users. According to the survey results, more than half of the respondents were homeopathy users. Of those respondents who were homeopathy users, 78% believed that homeopathic remedies were scientifically proven to work. This is in contrast to non-users who mostly did not believe homeopathy had a scientific basis. Interview results challenged initial findings and showed that most homeopathy users were aware of the lack of scientific evidence behind homeopathy, but used the remedies regardless. Rather than scientific evidence, it was revealed that participants valued personal, anecdotal, and traditional evidence when deciding to use homeopathy. The discussion argues that current communication efforts focused on the lack of scientific support for homeopathy fail to reach users. In dismissing users’ experiences and perceptions, science communicators risk increasing distrust in scientific evidence and potentially strengthening users’ beliefs by compounding an adversarial relationship. In order to limit risks and complications from avoiding conventional medicine, future research into health communication must be developed with users’ experiences and perceptions in mind.
Advisor: Medvecky, Fabien; Bering, Jesse
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Centre for Science Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: homeopathy; mixed-methods; health decision-making; evidence; science communication
Research Type: Thesis