Monday, 18 June 2018 09:39

Alternative Medicine Featured

What's the Alternative?

Modern medicine prides itself on a firm commitment to scientific evidence in the assessment of the cause and treatment of disease. It is however an applied science to the deeply personal experience of every individual: this being their own body and health. This may explain why there is no shortage of opinion on how to treat illness by the public at large and specifically by those wishing to practice in alternative health care. Not all of these practitioners subscribe to the scientific method to ascertain medical fact or they may distort the method to give the appearance of scientific rigour.

It is noteworthy that when a bridge is constructed no one would be happy to drive over it if it was constructed by an alternative engineering practitioner who was sceptical of the basic principles of physics. We would rightly not set foot in an aircraft designed to be held up by a force yet to be detected by any scientific enquiry. Yet when it comes to our health some practitioners are prepared to offer advice to sick people that has as little scientific validity as these examples.

Modern medicine has learnt its lesson the hard way. History is full of stories of unfortunate people killed or damaged by the treatment recommend to them by the medical profession. Little of this therapy was tested for its effectiveness or safety and was often concocted on a non-existent or distorted understanding of the nature of the body and disease.

“ I die by the help of too many physicians” was said to be final words of Alexander the Great in 323 BC. George Washington who was bled to death by his doctors, while suffering a severe throat infection, would be inclined to agree.

These doctors did not lack good intentions or compassion but what they lacked was a method to scrutinise their advice and actions. This was the scientific method, which on balance since its early days in the 17th century has brought untold benefits to mankind.

Modern health care is founded on scientific principles to understand the body and disease as well as develop effective and safe treatments. Health practitioners who do not offer therapies that are scrutinised in this manner run the risk of repeating the historical experience of medicine.

This is not to say that mainstream health practitioners know everything and can help all people all the time. There will always be gaps in our knowledge and our application of what we know may not always be effective or suitable for each individual. This is a challenge for each medical practitioner and the profession as a whole to overcome with science and self-scrutiny.

People are free to choose to consult practitioners who either do not subscribe to scientific principals or have a flawed understanding of them. If these therapists fully embraced scientific principals and had a thorough understanding and application of the scientific method then there would be no need for labels such as alternative or complementary medicine.

Provided the patient is not physically, psychologically or financially harmed by alternative medicine then there is probably no great danger. However, when we are ill we can be desperate and hence vulnerable to people offering misguided or, on rare occasions, manipulative advice.

Quite rightly, doctors should be and are held to high standards.  We are also human beings with our own flaws, limitations and prejudices. It is our commitment to scientific medical principals applied with compassion that offers patients the best defence against our human failings and the best hope of effective care.