The theme for the 1995 NCH convention was "Homeopathy: Real Health Care Reform" and the convention opened Friday night with a discussion of how health care in this country can be changed to better meet the needs of consumers. Dana Ullman, NCH board member, started with remarks on how interest in alternative medicine has growm. He cited last year's Eisenberg study in NEJM that showed one third of all persons surveyed had used some form of alternative medicine. Dana also said that courses on alternative medicine are now offered at thirty medical schools and the interest of students in alternative medicine is high. Dana noted that at one school the course was taught by a sceptic of alternative medicine and the students revolted against the presentation. Five states have recently provided legal protection for medical doctors practing alternative medicine and the number of states licensing naturopathic doctors has grown. And a new clinic has been set up at John Bastyr College and funded by the OAM to study alternative medicine.
Dana used the term "coming out of the medical chest" to refer to the reluctance of many persons to talk about their interest in alternative medicine. According to the Eisenberg study, most patients do not inform their doctors of their use of medical alternatives. But many persons will express their interest and use of alternative medicine when others express their support.
Dana emphasized the importance of patient education as part of medical treatment. He said medical chauvanism needs to be discouraged and medical education and research into alternatives needs to be funded in amounts proportional to their use by the public. He also said the old maxim from the Hippocratic oath, "first do no harm" needs to be taken seriously by medical practitioners and safer methods of treatment, such as homeopathy, used first.
Dr. James Gordon, a psychiatrist and professor of medicine at Georgetown University, then spoke on the guiding principles of alternative medicine, or as he termed it, "new medicine." New medicine, he said, emphasizes the uniqueness of the patient instead of treating the patient according to statistical norms. It treats each patient as more than the sum of their parts and includes the emotional, social, annd familial aspects of their lives. Dr Gordon said that new medicine emphasizes the importance of groups and group support. It stresses that primary care is self care and shifts the emphasis from treatment to teaching. New medicine is also open to all healing systems, both those of other cultures and maligned systems within our own culture. And finally he noted that new medicine is fundamentally a spriritual work and encounter.
Dr. Brian Berman is head of the Center for Complementary Medicine at Maryland' University Hospital. His interest in alternatice medicine started because he felt that allopathic medicine did not have the answer for chronic health problems. He first started studying acupuncture, then became interested in homeopathy and manipulative therapy After University Hospital received a million dollar grant from an anonymous donor to set up a program for alternative medicine, he was invited to head the newly created center. The Center first focussed on th treatment of chronic pain, but has more recently become a family practice clinic. Brian discussed some of the problems the Center has encountered, such as trouble getting reimbursed for treatment. He says that while most doctors are more open to alternative medicine and willing to listen to the evidence, their attitude is still short of full acceptance. Brian said that acceptance of a form of treatment is more a function of familiarity than published research and cited a survey where doctors said they were most likely to try a form of medical treatment if it had been recommended by a respected colleague. He described the case of a fellow doctor who had helped him do a literature search on the effectiveness of acupuncture. Although the doctor had seen the research, he was still somewhat scpetical of acupuncture until he developed lower back pain. After acupuncture treatment resolved the problem, he became an enthusiastic supporter of acupuncture and recommended it to his colleagues. So it all comes down to personal experience and not research.
Alan Trachtenburg, acting director of the OAM, spoke on the growing acceptance of homeopathy and alternative medicine in general. He said the American Public Health Association has recently formed a SIG alternative medicine and public health practices. The OAM has funded a clinical trial on the effectiveness of homeopathy for head injuries and the FDA has waived the requirement for investigational new drug (IND) licenses for the study. This reequirement has been an obstacle for homeopathic research in the past and the fact that the FDA has waived it in this study is a hopeful sign for the future. Alan said allopathic medical journals are now willing to publish homeopathic studies, while in the past such studies were only published in homeopathic journals. This brings these studies to the attention of a larger audience. However, Alan said that it is important that existing studies be replicated of homeopathy is to gain wider acceptance. Alan said in conclusion that alternative medicine is now a recognized component in American medicine.