Is Alternative Medicine, Medicine or not?

This question comes up often in medical practice today. Medicine as I was taught to practice was based on treatments tested by the scientific method. The Scientific Method consists of a set of ways to test a therapy and determine its effectiveness. It uses statistical methods to measure and determine the outcomes. This method continues to be refined and improved.

Scientific Medicine fails to address the real questions of healthcare.

What do we want health career to do? This gets to some fundamental questions of life and how we live it. Much of scientific Medicine uses death as the measured outcome. Since all of us will die alternatives to immortality suffice. How long did one group live v. the other often becomes the outcome measured.

As my practice drifted away from straight Internal Medicine into Geriatrics, the question of death became less important. We talked of Quality of Life and not Quantity. Quality of life is harder to measure and thus is often ignored in Mainstream Medical research.

In the social sciences Quality is the only outcome they can measure. Thus methods have been developed to do that. I am sure you have taken surveys that asked questions like how much you liked or disliked a statement or situation. Yet mainstream medicine refuses to incorporate such questions into their studies.

You never see patient’s asked to compete Quality of Life questionnaires at various points in in study. We do count the number of patients who don’t complete the study or therapy. This “Intention to Treat” requirement increases the rigor of the study, but fails to answer the quality of life issue.

Yet many therapies are intolerable.

One of my aunts died of breast Cancer. For a long time she was a “Breast cancer Survivor”. She developed the cancer in the 1950’s. In those days the therapy was really toxic. She recovered and lived for decades. But the therapy had other tolls.

Her young daughter was traumatized by the experience. When she herself was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, she sought alternative therapy. The Cancer did not respond to those therapies. Was it effective?

If longevity is what we seek, then No. if avoidance of the suffering she saw her mother goes thru, probably. Death from Cancer is not pleasant, either. My cousin left a ten your old child behind along with her] husband.

When considering a therapy what should we ask?”

Doctors are required to list the accepted therapies along with their risks and benefits. Most lack training in the “alternative” medicines. They offer only alternatives among mainstream therapies.

How can you choose?

First, what do you really want? Few of us pause to consider this. Our busy lives prevent the time to reflect upon this. Yet what has more importance?

Second, for whom do we decide? In the case of my Aunt and her daughter it went well beyond the “patient” herself.

Third, who would we include in the process? My parents included the whole family in the process. This made it easier for me and my siblings to be with them in their final days. We have been able to share our grief and continue our lives.

Fourth, with whom should we share our decisions? Those who will be affected by the decision need to know. That list includes family, friends and health care providers. Health care providers get involved when you die. Their default mode of care is to “preserve life at all costs”. Thus their actions can be traumatic if not dramatic. Ways to prevent unwanted interventions exist.

Thus Alternative Medicines are not part of the Science of Medicine. They are part of the Art of Medicine. That is what mainstream medicine lacks by staying scientific.

What are your thoughts about “Alternative Medicine”?

As All Ways, Seek Joy,

Coach Dr. Dave

Host of the upcoming webinar on “the life Transition of a disability”

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