Board of Medicine

A Policy Statement on Homeopathy

Approved by the Iowa Board on June 28, 2001

Homeopathy, although a centuries old practice, has only recently re-emerged as a practice in Iowa. This policy statement is not a legally binding opinion of the board, but is only intended to provide guidance to the public. The board may make formal policy only through administrative rules, declaratory orders or contested case decisions.

Description of Homeopathy

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine categorizes homeopathy as an alternate medical system because it has a complete system of theory and practice that evolved independent of the conventional biomedical approach. Samuel Hahnemann, M.D., developed homeopathy beginning in the 1790's. Classical homeopathy rests on the beliefs that the body is possessed of self-healing energy called the "vital force" and that symptoms represent the body's effort to restore itself to health. Practitioners believe that applying the correct homeopathic medicine can stimulate the body's self-healing mechanisms. Homeopathic medicines are composed of herbal, mineral and animal substances.

Homeopathy utilizes the Law of Similars which holds that a substance that causes certain symptoms when taken in large doses can eliminate those symptoms when taken in minute and specially prepared forms. Practitioners prescribe only a small number of doses of medicine and wait, sometimes several days or weeks, to see what effect it has. Homeopaths find that the homeopathic healing process can be quite subtle at first, but the treatments are usually "prompt, thorough, and longlasting,"2 depending upon the practitioner's skill in prescribing the correct medicine.3 Homeopaths believe a "healing crisis" occurs with an exacerbation of symptoms as the body's self-healing mechanisms are being stimulated. They believe there is a hierarchy by which a cure of chronic disease takes place. The hierarchy is that healing occurs from internal to external, from top to bottom and in reverse order of the appearance of symptoms. The practitioner uses the hierarchy as a guideline to help understand if the patient's health is improving or deteriorating. The principle of a single remedy states that one homeopathic medicine should cure all of a patient's symptoms. A single medicine is selected according to the totality of the patient's physical, emotional and mental symptoms.

Is homeopathy a safe practice?

The practice of homeopathy by an M.D. or D.O. trained in homeopathy appears to be safe, in general, in that the amount of "medication" used is so dilute that it is not likely to cause harm. On the other hand, it is so dilute it is unexplainable at this time as to how it can be helpful. Some double blind, placebo controlled studies suggest that homeopathic treatments may be effective for a few specific conditions. The public needs to be informed that this practice may not be useful and that it may divert individuals from other, more efficacious modalities of care while taking precious time for homeopathy to take effect. In addition, patients may spend considerable money for treatments that may not be effective. The board's position is "buyer beware."

Is it okay for an M.D. or D.O., i.e. physician, to practice homeopathy?

Yes, if licensed as an M.D. or D.O. in Iowa and trained in homeopathy. A physician trained in homeopathy is expected to utilize homeopathy as only one modality of care along with traditional medicine. Physicians are encouraged not to use homeopathic treatments on patients without offering conventional alternatives if the homeopathic treatments are not grounded in peer-reviewed research. A medical doctor needs to be aware when time is of the essence and more conventional therapies are more suitable for a patient's condition. A medical doctor must utilize informed consent when not utilizing conventional therapies.

The physician is subject to discipline for errors of omission or commission in the practice of homeopathy. The board recommends a physician who utilizes homeopathy not advertise as a homeopathic physician but advertise as a physician who practices homeopathy. When further scientific evidence is available, the board may change its position on the practice of homeopathy.

Is it okay for an acupuncturist trained in homeopathy to practice homeopathy?

No. Acupuncturists trained in homeopathy may not practice homeopathy because Iowa Code section 148E.1(1) states that they cannot practice outside the scope of the acupuncture license. Homeopathy is not included in the statutory definition of acupuncture, nor is anything similar.

Is it okay for another Iowa-licensed professional trained in homeopathy to practice homeopathy?

That depends on the individual's licensing board. The Iowa Board of Medicine would prefer to see homeopathy practiced only by health care providers, such as advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, chiropractors, podiatrists and dentists, within the scope of their licenses and as regulated by their boards. These providers have a broader base of knowledge about health and illness than less trained individuals.

Is it okay for a layperson trained in homeopathy to practice homeopathy?

No. Homeopathy is the practice of medicine because it involves the diagnosis and treatment of human conditions. Diagnosis can mean diagnosis of disease or conditions which may include symptoms of disease or ill health. Treatment can mean providing a remedy, cure or recommending care of some nature, e.g., diet, prescription and non-prescription medications or herbs. It is against the law, Iowa Code sections 147.74, 148.1 and 150A.1, for an unlicensed individual to practice medicine, i.e., homeopathy, and utilize the term "doctor" or "physician."

What about a lay homeopath that puts the public more at risk than when homeopathy is practiced by a physician?

An M.D. or D.O. is trained to diagnose human conditions using a myriad of diagnostic techniques and treat those conditions using a wide variety of modalities. An M.D. or D.O. is better prepared to identify what conditions are more threatening and require traditional care. An M.D. or D.O. is regulated, and therefore the public has a state agency to go to with complaints.

1This description of homeopathy comes largely from homeopaths and does not indicate the board's acceptance of the beliefs as scientifically sound.
2 Jacobs, Jennifer and Richard Moskowitz, "Homeopathy" in Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, by Marc S. Micozzi,MD, PhD. Churchill Livingstone, NY: 73.
3 There is no evidence to support generalized claim.

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