Why Americans Should Embrace Alternative Medicine
(Audience: American physicians, patients, legislators, and insurers who are wary of alternative medicine and its growing popularity)
As complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) grows more popular with the American public, the question arises whether we should consolidate aspects of unorthodox medicine with standard care. Many, such as Dr. Andrew Weil, swear by CAM’s effectiveness and urge for a more patient-centered approach to care (Relman). While CAM has no shortage of critics, a growing body of research is indicating the effectiveness of many CAM therapies in treating a variety of conditions. Patients, physicians, and researchers sometimes find that CAM therapies are more practical or appropriate for treating a condition than conventional treatment. Low-risk CAM therapies should be more thoroughly researched, selectively integrated with conventional medicine, and more widely accepted by physicians, insurers, legislators, and patients.
Alternative medicine is sometimes defined as anything outside of mainstream medical practice and complementary medicine as a combination of alternative and mainstream approaches. Although names such as “alternative” and “nonconventional” would seem to suggest that CAM is somewhat uncommon, the World Health Organization estimates that traditional (i.e. folk) medicine accounts for 65 to 80 percent of the world’s health care services;
likewise, even two decades ago American patients visited CAM practitioners more frequently than they visited conventional primary-care physicians (Jonas). Additionally many practices once considered alternative are now widely accepted by conventional medicine, such as the “radical” practice of hand washing after delivering babies as a method of preventing puerperal fever (“Dr. Semmelweis’ Biography”). This essay will utilize the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Alternative Medicine’s definition of alternative medicine as: “Any medical practice or intervention that (a) lacks sufficient documentation in the United States for safety and effectiveness against specific diseases and conditions; (b) is not generally taught in U.S. medical schools; and, (c) is not generally reimbursable by health insurance providers” (qtd. in Jarvis). This definition includes natural cures and herbs, whole medical systems such as Indian Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, mind-body practices such as meditation and hypnosis, healing and energy medicine such as qigong, and practices such as acupuncture and massage (Baker 746).
One potential motivating factor for CAM use in America is dissatisfaction with increasingly invasive and expensive conventional or “allopathic” treatment. Horror stories about doctors overprescribing or misprescribing drugs, such as a study by Dr. W.S. Aronow revealing nearly half of patients admitted to a nursing home were inappropriately prescribed a medication that put them at risk...