• Alysa Salzberg

What mainstream practitioners can learn from alternative medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine, which includes acupuncture, yoga, massage, tai chi, and herbal medicine, is becoming increasingly popular in the United States. Whether or not you believe in the effectiveness of these treatments, one thing is for sure: the reasons behind their popularity offer mainstream healthcare providers some valuable insights.

Sometimes referred to as “CAM” for short, complementary and alternative medicine’s popularity isn’t due to effectiveness. Healthline.com writer Beth Ann Mayer lists a number of studies whose varied results reveal that alternative medicine’s actual healing impact remains debatable. Findings also point to a lack of uniformity in results; what works for one patient may not work for another.

Despite this lack of certainty when it comes to managing or healing health conditions, what’s making complimentary and alternative treatments so popular? For Mayer, it comes down to essential 5 things:


time. No matter how serious a patient’s condition, their doctor isn’t likely to spend a significant amount of time with them during an appointment. But many alternative treatments, like yoga or tai chi, offer patients the exact opposite. In these cases, time is set aside as the instructor guides the patient in a calm, mindful environment.

trust. Studies show that the public’s trust in mainstream physicians has declined. This may be tied to the previous issue -- doctors aren’t able to take a lot of time with patients and may not develop strong rapports with them.

Additionally, Mayer cites alternative medical practitioner Dr. Greg Lane, who believes that mainstream practitioners don’t tend to see the bigger picture. They tend to stay within their field of knowledge, while alternative medical practitioners see health as a physical, mental, and spiritual issue.

a natural choice. Some patients prefer to avoid medication when treating issues like pain, fatigue, or nausea. From herbal remedies to special types of movement, CAM offers many potential solutions.

another option. Some patients may find that no matter what their doctor advises or prescribes, their issue - for instance, pain or nausea - won’t go away. CAM could be another way to manage their suffering.

an added effect. Patients who need medication and are following a mainstream path towards healing or management of their condition may find that CAM can provide extra help when it comes pain, nausea, anxiety, and other issues that often exist alongside chronic and serious health conditions.

The reasons for CAM’s rising popularity may seem to emphasize the divide between it and mainstream treatment. But that’s forgetting about the “complementary” part of CAM. Healthcare providers can use CAM and its appeal to patients in their own work. For instance:

taking time and building trust. Mainstream healthcare providers may not be able to spend extensive amounts of time with patients or have intense experiences that provide a spiritual connection. But then again, that last one is always a possibility. Bedside manner can do a lot for the doctor-patient relationship. This article, for example, is an excellent bedside manner refresher and includes a list of helpful tips for practitioners.

offering a complementary natural choice. Obviously there are many health conditions that require biomedical treatment. But healthcare providers can promote natural choices alongside it. For instance, it may be helpful to offer information for patients about complementary treatments that can help them manage issues like pain and anxiety.

suggesting an additional care option. Doctors don’t want to lose patients in any sense of the word. But suggesting a CAM option to use in tandem with their current care could speak well of a healthcare provider - and also work to reestablish trust and connection, some other issues on this list!

providing an added effect. Acknowledging the fact that CAM can have a positive impact on patients can help doctors see them not as rivals or threats to mainstream care, but as helpers. Why not put a patient at ease by suggesting they look into yoga or acupuncture, for instance? Depending on their time and resources, healthcare providers could research or even create a partnership with alternative and complimentary healthcare providers in their area.

The rising popularity of CAM shouldn’t be seen as a threat to mainstream healthcare, but rather an opportunity to improve patients’ lives -- not to mention the patient-doctor relationship.





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