Alternative medicine such as herbal remedies, Reiki, hypnosis, aromatherapy, and acupuncture are all ancient methods of medicine that have been used to heal patients for centuries. These holistic approaches to medicine are becoming increasingly popular as ways to improve the health and well being of individuals in contemporary societies, now commonly described as complementary medicine. This essay will discuss why people seek alternative or complementary medicine in favour of the conventional biomedical methods. I will then consider whether these holistic treatments challenge scientific medicine, or whether the two approaches can work along side each other. To begin with, I will describe what complementary and alternative medicine is.
Complementary medicine is a group of therapeutic and diagnostic disciplines that focus on the individual as whole which contrasts with the biomedical model that views the body and mind as separate from each other. It exists outside the realms of biomedicine and the institutions that teach and provide healthcare based on the scientific approach. Complementary and alternative medicine has been set into groups but it is hard to define where each should go.
A report by the House of Lords Select Committee for Science and Technology (2000), divides each therapy into groups ranging from those with a recognised research base, those starting to accumulate a research base, to those with no evidence-based research. There has been an increase in the use of complementary medicine in the fields of those grouped into the researched-based category such as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, and osteopathy, due to a consistent and coherent epistemology. However, with the best of modern medicine available, why has this increase occurred?
Essay Alternative Medicine
One explanation for the increase in popularity is dissatisfaction with conventional medicine. Sharma notes that users of alternative medicine report how scientific drugs do not always work and can cause iatrogenic damage. The biomedical approach focuses on treating and curing the symptoms rather than preventing the cause. This is in contrast to complementary medicine that considers other factors to identify the cause such as lifestyle, environment, diet, and mental health alongside physical symptoms. Emphasis placed on sophisticated technology, pharmaceutical drugs, and surgery often has harmful side effects.
Studies have shown that significant numbers of adults in Britain and other countries have used complimentary or alternative therapies. In 1989, the BMJ reported that about one in eight Britons use complimentary therapies. A more recent research study conducted by the BBC has shown that complimentary and alternative medicines are becoming increasingly popular. The number of people using complimentary medicine has doubled over the past six years. The majority of the people surveyed said the main reason they used complementary and alternative medicine was because it worked for them, but other reasons given includes that it was relaxing and that it helped to prevent illness. Practitioners of complementary medicine give longer consultations averaging 1 hour as opposed to 5-7 minutes with a GP. This made patients feel more valued with better communication between themselves and the complementary practitioner.
Vickers (2000) notes that recent advances into complementary medicines’ research show the quality is improving along with sound evidence to support its usage. In addition, medical practitioners in the conventional settings are also recommending patients try some forms of complementary therapies due to the rise of the evidence base.
HRH the Prince of Wales and indeed the whole royal family are great believers of holistic medicine. Prince Charles believes many people could benefit from complimentary medicine. The Prince has suggested a national strategy for alternative medicine. By increasing the funding for the Foundation for Integrated Medicine, this could co-ordinate this strategy such as, allocate funding, provide a networking resource, train researchers, disseminate information and monitor research development. He also that more funding should go towards bursaries, fellowships, and research centres within the NHS.
Although conventional medicine and complimentary medicine have existed separately, the two are becoming integrated and provided in the same structural site. As Vickers also points out, in 2000 around 40% of GPs in the UK offered access to alternative medicine, osteopathy and chiropractic therapies being the most common. Relaxation classes such as yoga are offered to improve well being in those with mild anxiety or depression.
Those who practice osteopathy and chiropractic treatments now registered in these fields with regulatory bodies, often work alongside biomedical practitioners within the NHS. The NHS are calling for more funding for research into complementary medicine in the UK and recently funded two trails of acupuncture for the treatment of chronic pain and help to individuals to stop smoking. The former is proving to be effective although the latter is not so effective.
The ‘greening of medicine’ suggests the two methods working together would force complementary medicine into the biomedical paradigm. It argues this because biomedicine originated from science and scientific studies that are proven and empirical, whereas complementary medicine is viewed as ‘murky’. The two methods are very different from another and a different way of thinking about health.
The meeting of the two approaches in my opinion can work together effectively as attitudes towards complementary medicine has shifted in emphasis to more of a belief in the empirical evidence that supports its efficacy and effectiveness. Biomedicine was once suspicious of complementary medicine but the two now work closely in research and clinical trials. Complementary medicine and its therapeutic relationship has shown to be effective for a number of reasons, for example patient empowerment and more communication between doctor and patient with longer consultations.
To conclude, this essay has highlighted some of the reasons why many people in society prefer to use complementary and alternative methods to improve their health and well being. The increasing trials and a strong evidence base give empowerment to individuals in making decisions about desired health care. In addition, as there is more acceptance within the medical profession – with around 1 in 10 GPs now recommending its usage – improved access to alternative and complementary therapies under the NHS should be addressed. Not only does it alleviate pressures of an already over stretched health care system in terms of resources and time, some therapies are proven to work and improve the physical health and mental well being of those who use it.