Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Alternative Universe

I hate the term 'alternative medicine'.

I hate that it is used freely to describe chiropractic, iridology, acupuncture, homeopathy, yoga, and prayer, among others. Without passing judgment, these things are simply not equivalent, in terms of history, licensing requirements, efficacy as determined by research, general acceptance, and well... they are all just different! The only commonality is that they are NOT conventional medicine. And the connotation is of a binary system, an either/or of health care where choosing the 'alternative' precludes the conventional. This myopic thinking is insulting and, frankly, unhealthful.

Don't get me wrong - I am a big fan of modern medicine. You may remember me from "The Bride with the Herniated Discs: A young woman's drug-induced limp down the aisle", and its sequel "The Chiropractor and the Neurosurgeon - Doctors in Love". Of course, who could forget the great laminectomy and discectomy of '05, and I know I'll always remember Amoxicillin vs. Sinusitis in '98... the last year they ever battled in this venue. Amoxicillin won.

But I resent the implication that because one opts to take Vitamin A instead of a flu shot, or labours with a midwife instead of an obstetrician, that they eschew conventional medicine. I maintain, rather, that we are fortunate to be able to choose the most appropriate care and care provider at a particular time and for a particular condition. I believe that our varied health care needs are best met by a roster of qualified and compassionate care providers.

A much more palatable term is complementary medicine, since it is inclusive rather than exclusive. It allows that single disciplines cannot by nature address all health concerns, and that there are options such as chiropractic and acupuncture (and naturopathy and traditional chinese medicine and...) that can pick up where conventional medicine ends or may be undesirable. A back pain sufferer may be prescribed anti-inflammatories by a general practitioner and treated mechanically by their chiropractor. A person with colitis may have investigations and medications as prescribed by their gastroenterologist and still benefit from nutritional therapy and acupuncture. It is OK, if not preferential, to use more than one treatment modality at a time - especially when they complement each other.

With approximately 75% of people using 'alternative' medicine at some point in their lives, it doesn't seem so alternative, does it?

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