Article first published in the U-T San Diego.
Amid the nation-wide debate about health care and each person’s search for a safe, effective, and affordable approach is the realization that being healthy is an individual responsibility and personal endeavor.
A synopsis of an article in The Atlantic by Dr. David H. Freedman says, “the medical profession kept a cool distance from alternative medicine, which most doctors dismissed as the province of hippies and snake oil salesman.” But with health care a topic of debate at the moment, Congress, medical professionals, and the public are all weighing in on what should be included in health care. With the mandate for most everyone to have health insurance coverage in 2014 – or pay a penalty – health care options are being reanalyzed with reference to breadth of coverage and cost.
Deepak Chopra, author and founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad, California, speaks bluntly about the medicine he was taught and the kind he now practices. His experiences highlight the sometimes-strained relationship between conventional and alternative medical practitioners. When the New England Journal of Medicine reported that Americans pay more annually for visits to alternative practitioners than to MDs, physicians expressed great concern. But there has been increased interest among a number of conventional medical professionals since National Institutes of Health studies reported that approximately 38 percent of the public is spending $34 billion dollars a year on alternative medicine out of their own pocket. Chopra makes the following very succinct statement about this issue: “No one could really object to the aims of alternative medicine, which are to bring relief to the whole patient. Sick people come to us in hopes that their suffering will end. If millions of them have been seeking holistic treatments instead of the two-pronged approach of conventional medicine – drugs and surgery – their motivation isn’t irrational.”
And yet, retired British professor Edzard Ernst, a strong supporter and practitioner of complementary medicine, is not so sure. “The real reason, I have come to conclude, is that people are being lied to. Practitioners of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) often fail to explain what the evidence shows and does not show. It is a triumph of advertising over rationality:”
As physicians and hospital personnel who are receptive to this approach work to include alternative medicines in their treatments, they will also need to address ways for patients to be informed and be active decision makers. Hopefully, as the political leaders of our country experience grass roots support for a more holistic health care system, financial and regulatory support will be integrated into the health care insurance policies available to the public.
So just what is alternative medicine? The term is not well defined, but NIH studies name 10 alternatives: prayer, prayer for self, prayer for others, natural products, deep breathing, prayer groups, mediation, chiropractic care, yoga, massage, and diet therapies.
I consider my own system, whose roots can be traced to healings found in the New Testament, to be one of those alternatives because spiritual resources have been my main source of health care. One of the benefits of this form of health care is that I take more direct responsibility for my health, and have found that my progress is directly related to my own spiritual practice. It has provided prevention and cure that consistently reinforces the quality of my health.
If the current trend of patients asking for a variety of therapies continues, and this seems likely, it will be important for health care providers to look for ways to meet this demand, and for all options to be on the table when devising plans. Patients shouldn’t have to go outside the system to receive the care that works best for them.