Assaulting alternative medicine: worthwhile or witch hunt?

Re: Assaulting alternative medicine: worthwhile or witch hunt?

21 February 2012

I have been involved with the bringing of alternative and complementary health care modalities from pure empiricism to what we now term "evidence-based medicine" in Australia for over 20 years. It is a slow and difficult process, with my own profession shifting the goalposts many times.

For a decade, the call was to bring these modalities within the universities to formalise and categorise the education and to conduct research. As this was achieved, through the National Institute of Complementary Medicine (NICM) and courses in a variety of quality institutions, the same people now demand its exclusion, simply on the basis that the underlying hypotheses and paradigms must be false, and therefore not worthy of study in a university.

This is a pernicious and regrettable turn of events. One must trust in the quality of one's institutions, especially universities, and their ability to iterate towards a better quality of science and understanding of healing and health. Such iteration cannot emerge from the stagnation proposed by the Orwellianly-monikered "Friends of Science in Medicine".

The demand that a new and fresh approach to health and healing, unbound to Western Orthodox Medicine's specific approach to disease and treatment, be removed from scientific classification and research ignores the fact that there are areas of massive failure in Medicine (prevention, obesity, depression come to mind), and that three quarters of the Australian population turns to use these modalities even when they are costly and Medicine is massively subsidised.

We owe it to ourselves and our patients to understand why this happens, and what Complementary Medicine has to offer that we doctors are not providing. Our own Medicine has little more than a veneer of evidence-based respectability. We would do well to remember that we are all on a common path of science, and the goal of health care is not to be evidence-based, but to help those who seek our care using the broadest and best information available to us. Such learning is best done in the light of the University, not in the shadows of shonky, third rate "institutes".

The answer may be not to remove Complementary Medicine from study, but to expose all health care students to a common undergraduate curriculum incorporating traditional and western health care, without prejudice. If the education is of high quality, the science will look after itself, and our patients will ultimately benefit.

Competing interests: I have been paid for GP education (most RACGP approved) on behalf of companies producing Complementary Medicines in Australia, and am director of Centre for Evidence-Based Complementary Medicine (CEBCoM) in Sydney, Australia

Mark Donohoe, medical practitioner

CEBCoM www.cebcom.com.au, 11 Oswald St, Mosman 2088 NSW Australia

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