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 Alternative and Complementary Therapies: Ten Most Commonly Asked Questions About Alternative Medicine 
Michael Morton Alan PhD, Mary Morton ©

  • Worldwide, only ten to thirty percent of people use conventional medicine, 70 to 90 percent use alternative medicine.17
  • Approximately $22 million of U.S. government money has already been spent on alternative medical research since 1992 at the National Institutes of Health and Public Health Services.18
  • The American Medical Association (AMA), in Resolution #514, "is encouraging its members to become better in-formed regarding alternative (complementary) medicine and to participate in appropriate studies of it."19
  • Renowned hospitals, such as Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in New York, have created alternative medical clinics in their facilities.
  • Almost one-third of American medical schools - among them Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown Universities - now offer coursework in alternative methods. (See reference section for a complete list.)20
  • Many alternative approaches have been scientifically proven to be less invasive, less dangerous, more effective, and more economical than conventional medicine.
  • Mutual of Omaha says it saves about $6.50 for every dollar it spends covering nonstandard (read: alternative) treatments.21
  • Seventy-four percent of the American population desire a more natural approach to health care.22
  • Of the one out of three Americans who have used alternative _medicine, 84 percent said they would use it again.23
  • Traditional Chinese medicine has been chosen by the World Health Organization for worldwide propagation to meet the health care needs of the twenty-first century.24
  • The U.S. Government sponsors the use of acupuncture in drug rehabilitation programs.25
  • There are five homeopathic hospitals in Great Britain run by the British National Service.26
  • One out of three drugs prescribed in Germany is an herb.27
  • One out of every ten Americans is under the care of a chiropractor.28
  • In 1993, Americans spent an estimated $1.5 billion on herbal remedies - ten times more than was spent on over-the-counter sleeping pills from grocery stores and drugstores.29
  • In 1991 Americans made more visits to unconventional health care providers (425 million) than to conventional doctors (388 million).30
  • One out of three Americans were using unconventional medicine in that same year.31
  • Americans spent almost $13.7 billion on unconventional care in that twelve-month period.32
  • Seventy-five percent of that money was out of pocket.33
  • Twelve percent of Fortune 500 companies offer alternative medicine as part of their health care compensation packages. That number is expected to increase to eighteen percent by the end of 1996.34

Despite all the facts and statistics you can offer others, when you are sure that you want to try alternative medicine, the most important information that you can offer the people who care about you is:

  • You have investigated your options.
  • You are confident in your choice.
  • You look forward to sharing your success stories with them.

    4. If I suspect there is something wrong with me physically, should I go to a medical doctor (M.D./D.O.) or to an alternative practitioner?
    Most health care professionals, be they alternative practitioners or medical doctors, recommend that you first go to a conventional medical doctor or to an osteopathic physician to get a diagnosis. D.O.'s and M.D.'s receive extensive training in diagnosing pathology (illnesses and diseases). If you visit an alternative medical practitioner who has not had the vast experience and training in diagnosing pathology that a conventional medical doctor or osteopathic doctor has, that person might miss a problem that could mean your very survival. Dr. Len Wisneski, corporate medical director for Marriott Corporation, says, "Many times a patient will come to me after they have been working with an acupuncturist. I have found problems that the acupuncturist missed. If we are looking at cancer, there is some precious time that has been lost, which we could have used to combat the malignancy."35

    After you have had a thorough examination, a diagnosis, and a recommended treatment program from an M.D. or D.O. then look at alternative medicine for other treatment options that might be as effective and less invasive. Of course, if you are in a crisis situation where time is of the essence, you will need to determine if you have the luxury of time to find an alternative. In a critical situation, your first and foremost commitment is to stay alive. In that case, conventional medicine may be your best answer. If this is not the case, we encourage you to look at all your alternative options.

    Also, we encourage you to find a conventional doctor who will work with you as a team player as you explore your alternatives. Dr. Joe Jacobs, former director of the Office of Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health says, "Keep your medical doctor informed about any alternative therapies you are trying or want to try. If you feel he or she is biased against alternative medicine, find another medical doctor. But maintain a relationship with an M.D [or D.O]."36 Just because there are shortcomings in our conventional medical system, don't underestimate the tremendous skills, training, and value a medical doctor can bring to your health care. A conventional medical doctor or an osteopathic physician is an important part of your health care team. The biomedical system is usually your best source for getting a fast and accurate diagnosis. Always use conventional or osteopathic medicine first if you suspect you have a potentially life-threatening health problem.

    5. There are so many different kinds of alternative medicine. How do I know that I'm choosing the right kind?
    It can be overwhelming to realize just how many alternative techniques and treatments are available today. The answer is to learn how to find the appropriate alternative medical options for you in an easy, efficient manner. The information presented in Step One of this book will show you how to do that. It clearly explains how to find the most effective treatments from around the world for your health condition. It also can get you to information on how to "live well" while living with your health condition, thus enhancing your quality of life. By doing Step One: Learn your Options, you will gain the information and knowledge you need to make informed and wise decisions about which alternative treatment is right for you. To further support you in this, we have provided a list of relevant organizations, support and advocacy groups, computer search services, and Internet research sources in the Reference Section of this book.

    6. I've heard there are some charlatans in alternative medicine. How do I know who is well trained and competent and who is not?

    In conventional medicine, there are both good and bad practitioners. The same is true for alternative medicine. For this reason, it is important to educate yourself. Steps One through Five of this book are designed to give you the tools you need to get the right information about any modality of alternative medicine so that you are not swayed by blind faith, by faulty information, or "a good line."

    Also, in Part II of the book, you'll learn what is considered competent training for the five licensed general health care providers of alternative medicine: the M.D. as an alternative medical practitioner, the Chinese medical practitioner, the chiropractor, the osteopath, and the naturopathic physician. This will help you discriminate effectively in choosing any of these alternative practitioners.

    You, as well as every health consumer, have both the right and the responsibility to make educated decisions about who should treat you and how. This book is structured to give you the tools you need to determine how well the alternative health care provider is trained, if he or she is fairly priced, and if he or she is able to give you the health results you seek.

    7. Is alternative medicine safe?
    This is another question that does not have a simple answer. In this country, "safe" means a treatment method has been endorsed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Most of the treatments that are labeled as alternative medicine have not yet received this endorsement, and it's possible they never will.

    In the "Chantilly Report" on alternative medicine, it states that "the current Federal mechanisms of regulating medical research do not favor the evaluation of many forms of alternative treatment. Because the costs of developing, evaluating, and marketing new drugs are so prohibitive, pharmaceutical companies are not likely to invest time and effort in therapies, such as nutritional or behavioral approaches, that cannot be patented and are therefore unlikely to offer the opportunity to recover their investment and provide a return to stockholders. This means that many alternative therapies are likely to be casualties of the formal research process."37

    This information indicates that health care consumers need to look beyond the recommendations of the FDA when making health care decisions - especially when one considers that other countries have regulatory systems, similar in function to the FDA, that have competently evaluated the effectiveness of many alternative therapies. Europe, for example, takes note of substances that have a long history of effective use and approves them under "the doctrine of reasonable certainty." This rule parallels the World Health Organization's (WHO) Guidelines for the Assessment of Herbal Medicines, which states that a substance's historical use is a valid way to document safety and efficacy in the absence of scientific evidence to the contrary.

    European and the WHO assessments of alternative remedies are available to you. You will need to personally decide whether or not the World Health Organization and Europe's standards of safety are adequate for you. While you ponder the issue, consider the following: In comparison with the rest of the world, the United States ranks fifteenth in life expectancy - behind Japan, Iceland, Sweden, Switzerland, Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Norway, Canada, Spain, Australia, France, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. Further, the United States is ranked number one among the industrialized nations of the world in infant mortality, death of children under the age of five, AIDS, cancer among men, incidences of breast cancer, and malpractice lawsuits.38

    You can reasonably assume that licensed alternative providers use treatments and techniques that are safe when used correctly. If you have a question about a particular treatment or remedy recommended by an alternative health care practitioner, ask both that practitioner and other experts to provide you with as much information as necessary to determine if you can personally have confidence in the recommended treatment.

    8. Will my insurance cover alternative medicine?
    The answer to this question depends on the state you live in and your insurance company. For example, many states now have a law that requires all health insurance policies to cover licensed chiropractic doctors. So, if you are in one of those states, you are legally entitled to receive chiropractic care and be reimbursed by your health insurance according to the terms of your policy. Your treatment must be defined as "medically necessary" and, at most insurance companies, conventional medical doctors decide if a licensed chiropractic doctor should be treating you or not. In the language of the trade, the conventional doctor is the "gatekeeper" who decides which procedures warrant reimbursement.

    What does this mean? Because many M.D.'s do not appreciate the viability and effectiveness of the chiropractic paradigm, the process of determining "medical necessity" is usually biased against many chiropractic medical claims. Conventional doctors decide that such treatment is not "medically necessary" in many cases. There are even documented cases of insurance companies stating that they will pay for expensive pain-relieving drugs or surgery from an orthopedic surgeon rather than pay for a much less expensive series of chiropractic adjustments to treat the same problem. Some insurance companies have made this choice even though competent research has shown the chiropractic approach to be an effective treatment for the same condition.

  • (Excerpted from Five Steps to Selecting the Best Alternative Medicine ISBN: 1880032945)
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