Recognition overdue for ‘natural medicine’
By Jayne B. Leet
March 17, 1997
Natural medicine options should be accessible to anyone regardless of income level, minority status or insurance coverage.
By "natural medicine," I mean the non-traditional providers in contrast to the conventional MD, DO or other medical providers from western-evolved training programs. Alternative providers include but are not limited to: naturopaths, homeopaths, traditional Chinese medicine providers, acupuncturists, licensed massage therapists and chiropractors. Even though we call these providers "alternative," they are much more accepted today than in previous decades.
As long as informed consent is provided on options, prognosis and side effects, a person should have the right to choose a health care treatment he or she believes in. After all, belief is part of the treatment. Many refugee/immigrant populations are more accustomed to natural medicine modalities in their native cultures. These populations would be more prone to use the U.S. health care system more appropriately if natural medicine modalities were integrated into our western medicine health care delivery system.
How long will it take the medical establishment, insurance companies and government to recognize the public demand for access to alternative providers as well as vitamins, supplements and medicinals? Objections to these therapies often cite the lack of research in natural medicine. While there is increasing research evidence supporting natural remedies, more needs to be done.
However, isn’t it obvious that pharmaceutical companies, which support most health research, will not be supporting research on natural remedies? Most alternative remedies cannot be patented and will not produce grant profits. Who will support the research? When will insurance companies become interested in research of treatment modalities that might actually cost less?
There are some positive signs on the horizon:
However, even with all these positive indicators, access to the integration within the conventional western medical system is still lacking.
As a breast cancer patient myself and as a health care professional who knows the local health care system, I can attest to the difficulty of finding medical providers (especially oncologists) who are willing to work with alternative health care providers. Those medical providers who are willing often find themselves chastised by the local medical establishment or threatened by state boards. I can also attest to the lack of insurance coverage for alternative therapies, even though they may cost thousands of dollars less and may be prescribed by MDs or DOs who can document evidence of their efficacy.
The public must continue to press forward for the integration within our health care system of service modalities known to other cultures for centuries. There is no argument that the United States possesses one of the finest health care systems in the world when it comes to diagnostic, acute care and trauma medicine. But one should not have to choose between traditional western medicine and other alternatives when it is possible to integrate both aspects of care. It is encouraging to note that Community Health Centers of King County has received calls from family practice residents (MD/DO physicians) across the country interested in working with natural medicine providers at our Kent Community Health Center. Hopefully, this denotes a trend among younger physicians.
Jayne B. Leet is Executive Director of Community Health Centers of King County.
Telephone: (206) 277-1311.