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The best of both worlds

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: (Published 20 January 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:181
  1. HRH Prince Charles

    Good health is important to everyone and it is vital that all aspects of healthcare provision are of the highest quality. No one has a monopoly on medical knowledge and it seems to me that we must adopt the best from both orthodox western medicine and other traditions.

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    The concept of integration remains close to my heart. For me this starts with the integration within each individual of the body, mind, and spirit through to the holistic development of the whole person. It extends to the relationship between that person and those around them. Part of this is being part of a community where people value and respect each other's beliefs and where no racial, religious, or cultural barriers exist. That is why, for me, integrated medicine is more than simply about curing disease and symptoms. It is about encouraging individual responsibility for one's own health. It is about the provision of integrated healthcare for the whole community. A wholesome environment nurtures healthy individuals.

    My interest in encouraging a more holistic view of healthcare first came to public notice when I was president of the BMA in 1982. The response then to my suggestion that “today's alternative might be tomorrow's orthodoxy” produced a somewhat tepid response. But attitudes, I believe, are changing, driven by the public's rapidly growing interest in complementary and alternative medicine. Indeed the debate is now under way about the benefits of bringing the best of orthodox and complementary care together.

    It would be a tragic loss if traditional human caring had to move to the domain of complementary medicine

    As both the founder and president of The Foundation for Integrated Medicine, I have been encouraged by the increasingly warm reception its work receives.

    There is no doubt that orthodox medicine has already begun to respond to the benefits which complementary medicine offers. In 1982, I suggested that orthodox medicine itself, was, to a measure, off-balance—I likened it to the leaning Tower of Pisa. I recognise that, since then, many orthodox practitioners, including doctors and nurses, have expressed an interest in redressing this balance. Many indeed have already integrated approaches, formerly seen as “alternative,” into the way they deliver their services. They have already begun to form partnerships with complementary practitioners. Now I believe there are fresh challenges.

    I would now ask healthcare professionals to consider what needs to be done to take forward this more integrated approach. Although I am greatly encouraged by the progress that has been made, I do not believe that the original imbalances, which led to the rise of complementary medicine, have yet been adequately redressed. I feel strongly that there is still a need for further changes in the way medicine is taught, practised, and researched.

    It is the education of tomorrow's healthcare professionals that will determine how people are treated in the coming century. I fervently hope that the humanity and openness that our future healthcare professionals possess will be valued and nurtured by the new training programmes and the broader approaches to learning, so that their vision and commitment to caring can be harnessed alongside their ever increasing technical expertise.

    We also need to consider what changes are needed in the way we deliver healthcare. Many patients feel rushed and confused by seeing a different doctor each time they visit and many healthcare professionals feel frustrated and dissatisfied at being unable to deliver the quality of care they would like in today's overstretched health service.

    It would be a tragic loss if traditional human caring had to move to the domain of complementary medicine, leaving orthodox medicine with just the technical management of disease.

    There is also a need for more broad-based research. We now need to better evaluate the holistic dimensions of care. This need is common to orthodox and other approaches. We are spending enormous sums of money on both orthodox and, increasingly, complementary health. There is an urgent need for more research not only into the efficacy of complementary medicine, but also into the benefits of combining the two systems. Appropriate research methods must be developed to evaluate the impact of this new approach to care which places the patient at the centre of their own healing process.

    I strongly believe that the way forward is to create a more inclusive system that incorporates the best and most effective of both complementary and orthodox medicine. We must give patients choice where appropriate, and the best of all worlds whenever it is possible.

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