THE BLOG

Universal Health Care Should Include Alternative Medicine

06/22/2015 05:34 EDT | Updated 06/22/2016 05:59 EDT
Shutterstock / Lisa F. Young

I have been practicing as a family physician since 1995. I was born and raised in Canada and have always felt privileged to have access to health care. A few of my siblings have moved south of the border and have either had to pay for private insurance or completely go without.

This article is not about arguing for a privatized system or a split system. Instead, this article is to bring light to the words "universal."

When I graduated from medical school 20 years ago, the standard of care for ailments was centred to the physician, specialists, hospitals and pharmaceuticals. There was little focus on alternative health remedies and less research done in that field.

In the last 20 years, things have shifted completely. Many practicing physicians may agree and likely notice the difference in their own practices as well. Now, patients commonly look to alternatives. It is not uncommon to see a chiropractor for back pain or a naturopath for food sensitivities. For some people, seeing a homeopath for regular preventative care is norm.

To quote from International Health News, from 1990 to 1997, there had been a 47 per cent increase in use of alternative health amongst Americans who were well educated and affluent.

In another more recent article, studies show that in 2010, 40 per cent of all Americans use some sort of alternative therapy not taught in medical school. There has always been an interest in alternative health but the exponential rise started in the 1990s.

In the United States, Congress passed legislation to fund a new division of health called the Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM). Then, in 1998, Congress established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which changed its name to the National Center for Complementary and Integrated Health in 2014. The centre acts as a liaison between the scientific community and the public about alternative therapies. During that time, the NCCIH has been able to show definite scientific proof backing many forms of alternative therapy.

The number of alternative therapies that have sprung up in the last 15 years is mind boggling. If you have an ailment, you will find so many people who can help you. This list is not exhaustive but includes: naturopaths, homeopaths, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors, medical intuitive, mind body spirit medicine coach, colon hydrotherapy clinicians, flower essence therapists, kinesiologists, holistic nutritionists, Ayurveda practitioners, Reiki, Reconnective healing, Shiatsu, osteopaths, hair analysis, hypnotherapy and many more.

Since the creation of organizations like the NCCIH, many of these alternative styles of therapies have concrete scientific proof about their modality and treatment of certain ailments. These studies are vast and can be found in journals, books and clinical research.

As physicians, we have little or no training in these alternative techniques. Many times our patients will go through with some of these and it can leave us confused, frustrated, overwhelmed and puzzled.

This article was spurred when I was walking down a central corridor in my home of Vancouver. I ran into an acquaintance of mine who was with his wife. They had just left an appointment with their naturopath.

He was limping and obviously in pain. He had just come from an appointment to help him with pain relief. Pharmaceuticals do not help and surgery is not an option. The naturopath injected him with certain medications that were helping him. The medications the naturopath was using were not things that physicians are taught to prescribe. These medications have been scientifically studied to help with pain.

Then, the next day a client of mine came to see me with excruciating back pain. I work as a mind body spirit medicine coach and medical intuitive. In my work, I can source the emotional cause of the pain and then go back to the thoughts that cause the emotions. With some coaching, I can teach a client how to shift the thoughts, thereby shift the emotion and then release the pain. This client came in with the pain. I spent two sessions with her over a few days and the pain was then completely gone. She had to pay me privately for these sessions as this is work that I do outside of the mainstream medical model as it is extra training I have pursued outside of medicine. What I have been trained to do has been scientifically studied. It has been shown that illness and pain can be related to emotions retained in the body often termed molecules of emotion. These molecules can get stuck in the fascia and unless shifted can cause pain and potentially other sequelae.

After these two back to back incidents, I started to ponder about the words "universal health care." Are these modalities, which have been scientifically studied to help, less effective and less important than pharmaceuticals and surgery? I think not -- especially if the client finds relief.

Given all the growing research evidence on alternative therapies I wonder if our current medical system is old. Both the insurance companies and the government have not kept up with time. As consumers of our health care regime we pay into the system through our tax dollars and monthly fees. Many of us do not use these dollars at all. We may not visit physicians or hospitals, yet may pay privately for alternative health care services on our own. These services are scientifically studied to help, so is this truly a universal health care?

Is it time for insurance companies and government to keep up with the changes that have occurred in health care? Is it time for them to recognize that other modalities are both scientifically proven and work? Is it time for us to re-vamp the term Universal Health Care to truly being Universal?

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