Dr. Keith D. Lindor is dean of the College of Health Solutions at Arizona State University. He is an international authority on liver disease, past president of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, and a former editor-in-chief of the preeminent journal Hepatology. He is also the former dean of Mayo Clinic School of Medicine. Dr. Lindor is but one of an impressive list of prominent doctors who have long shared a positive view of the benefits of alternative medicine and therapies.
Dr. Lindor’s views were shaped early in his career, working alongside a Native American medicine man at a reservation clinic. “I had been trained to aggressively treat patients with drugs that often only made them even more ill,” he told David E. Freeman in 2011. “But he could often do much better with just a press of his hand.”
In his new role with Arizona State’s College of Health Solutions, Dr. Lindor emphasizes a holistic approach to treatment in preparing the next generation of health professionals for entry into a quickly evolving health care system.
The notion that alternative medicine is a legitimate response to mainstream shortcomings is a message that has long been spreading. In recent years, integrative medical-research clinics were springing up all around the country, at least 42 of them at major academic medical institutions including Harvard, Yale, Duke, the University of California at San Francisco, as well as the Mayo Clinic. According to Newsmax, a national consortium to promote integrative health now counts more than 70 academic centers and health systems as members. There were eight in 1999.
Whether called complementary, alternative, or integrative treatment, an estimated 42 percent of all hospitals in the U.S. now offer nonconventional medical services. The Osher Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco is on pace to get more than 10,300 patient visits this fiscal year and is expanding its clinical staff by a third. Duke University’s integrative medicine clinic saw its total visits jump 50 percent in 2015 and the number continues to climb. It’s estimated as many as 38 percent of all adult Americans are using some form of alternative therapy.
While the medical community seems grow more open to alternative medicine’s possibilities, the rise of alternative therapies has sparked tension. Many doctors and administrators hold fast to the view that alternative medicine is, at best, a dubious business that is undermining the credibility of medical institutions and science-based medicine.
Why all this institutional interest in alternative medicine? Money is certainly a part of it. It’s a $37 billion-a-year business. Why wouldn’t the medical establishment want a part of that? But what doctors really need to focus on is why patients want such care? In large part, it’s because mainstream medicine is failing them. This is especially true of people such as my wife, those who come into the system with a hard-to-pin-down ailment. Many doctors today don’t seem to do well with things they don’t understand, and how they handle being at a loss for a clear prognosis or treatment plan can make a patient’s situation even worse. What’s needed is to not lose focus on what’s best for a patient. This is where alternative medicine, with its adherence to a “healing” model of patient care, can make a difference.
Why not encourage a patient to try an ancient remedy or a spiritual healing technique if it’s unlikely to cause them harm and may provide some relief? At this point of treatment, relieving patient stress needs to be a goal. Stress can make existing problems worse.
Once you’re sick, stress can make it harder to recover and create a higher risk for a bad outcome. In this situation, who’s to say that traditional Chinese medicine, which – like many alternative approaches, focuses on patients’ feelings and attitudes, stress reduction and encouraging the patient to believe in self-healing – is not of value?
In David H. Freedman’s 2011 comprehensive report on alternative medicine for the Atlantic Monthly, nearly every physician he spoke with agreed the current system makes it nearly impossible for most doctors to have the sort of relationship with patients that would best promote health. Relationships where there is an actual conversation; where doctors can maybe follow the clues patients give them about what they feel might help them.
As he notes in the article, if an alternative practitioner is also a medical doctor, or works in conjunction with one, it’s hard to see what’s being risked.
“If it doesn’t work, I don’t know that you’ve lost anything. If it does, you do get to a better place,” Dr. Richard Lang of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute recently explained to STAT News.
While you can argue that the evidence of alternative medicine’s effectiveness is far from absolute, neither is the evidence for various pharmaceutical therapies that are routinely provided by doctors and hospitals. The list of much-hyped and often heavily prescribed drugs that have failed to combat complex diseases seems to grow daily, some with well-documented risks of horrific side effects. Some of the solutions, such as opioids to treat pain, have contributed to an addiction problem that has reached epidemic proportions.
The biggest problem with alternate medicine in an institutional setting is the costs. Insurance coverage has been slow to catch up with current medical practices that incorporate alternative approaches. Not all integrative medicine clinics are designed as big profit centers. Many are funded by philanthropists and some hospitals say they operate their alternative programs at a loss. The Mayo Clinic, for example, a medical center renowned for the excellence of its medical care, is known for its relatively low cost of care.
It also needs to be stressed that there is a lot of quackery out there under the guise of alternative medicine. Selecting an alternative medical provider and treatment should be done with care and trusted referrals.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.