FAQ 17 – But mistakes also happen in medicine!

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More generally, the errors of medicine do not automatically make homeopathy an effective procedure

It is undisputed that errors and grievances in medicine cause more damage than there are reported errors in pseudomedicine, and we have no doubts about that at any point. Nevertheless, it must be stated that medical errors are by no means as numerous as is often claimed – especially by proponents of pseudomedicine.

  • Compared to the enormous number of annual doctor-patient contacts and treatments worldwide, the error rate is exceptionally small (no question: every error is one too many and regrettable!).

The German Medical Association writes about the work of the expert commissions and arbitration boards of the regional medical associations:
“Mistakes happen, even in medicine. But the probability that you as a patient will be harmed by a treatment error is extremely low. In outpatient SHI-accredited medical care alone, more than one billion doctor-patient contacts occur every year. In hospitals, the number of treatment cases has increased by more than 2.5 million in the last ten years to almost 19.8 million per year. Measured against this total number of treatment cases, the number of errors found by the expert commissions and conciliation bodies, but also by other bodies, is in the per mille range.”
The annual treatment error statistics for Germany can be viewed, for 2018 e.g. here.

The errors of medicine are random errors: human failure, technical failure, concatenation of unfortunate circumstances, fate (fate is of course not a “mistake”). Human failure is attributable to the doctor, but not to “medicine” as such. However, it is our medicine itself that recognizes a mistake as such and it is the only institution that can recognize this at all. For every physician who makes a mistake, there is a medical expert who names the mistake!

The mistakes of pseudomedicine – our subject here is only homeopathy, but the statement applies to all pseudomedical procedures – are, however, “system mistakes”.

Mistakes in medicine should lead to improvements in medicine and not to the use of pseudomedicine. Even if the medicine does not deliver 100% success (where would there be such a thing?), its success rates are the highest we humans can currently get. All success rates of all pseudomedical procedures, on the other hand, are significantly lower than those of scientific medicine.

Within medicine, there is a great awareness of the problem. This may not be the case with every single physician, but the entire major project of EbM (Evidence-based Medicine), the establishment of IQWIG (German Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care), the legal linking of the services of health insurance funds to the “state of the art of scientific knowledge” (with the exception of the German peculiarity of “special therapeutic directions” such as homeopathy) or initiatives such as Choosing Wisely are expressions of the awareness of these grievances in normal medicine. Our health care system has many institutions and instruments at its disposal to track down such errors or even better not to let them arise in the first place: There is a licensing regulation for the licensing of physicians in the form of a statutory order, which is continuously checked for its suitability and adapted if a regulation does not prove its worth.

  • There are medical associations that can withdraw the approval of an unsuitable doctor,
  • there are expert and arbitration boards that can be contacted if something goes wrong (see above),
  • there is a fairly comprehensive reporting system on problem cases, and the media also fulfil their function in this respect,
  • there are guidelines for the best possible treatment recommendations, including the latest medical knowledge,
  • there are commissions that create them and keep them up to date, i.e. actively learn from mistakes.
  • Pharmaceuticals and medical devices are not only subject to an approval process, but must also be monitored in the market for problem cases and anomalies.
  • Approvals for drugs can be withdrawn if there is an accumulation of damage reports – and this is what happens.
  • In the event of a problem, appropriate corrective and remedial measures must be introduced in a documented manner and their effectiveness checked.
  • Annual audits by state-accredited agencies verify whether the last two points are guaranteed in practice. If there is something wrong, production and sales are stopped, products are withdrawn from the market, warnings go to customers. It is therefore in the greatest self-interest of pharmaceutical and medical technology manufacturers to adhere to the specifications.

There is no systematic processing of all (!) occurring problems, especially in therapy – due to the individual therapy events it is certainly never possible to achieve 100% accuracy. But in any case, there are considerably more control authorities than there are in homeopathy. The criticism of medicine by homoeopathy supporters ultimately fall back on themselves – after all, they show that homoeopathy has not managed to set up control bodies for 200 years. Have you ever heard of drugs being recalled after a homeopathic drug trial? Ever from a homeopathic remedy that may no longer be used? Ever come from a homeopath who questions homeopathy? Ever heard of uniform treatment or diagnostic criteria? Or of quality assurance or complaints offices, if one feels wrongly treated as a homeopathic patient or has even suffered damage through a homeopathic treatment? Not us.