Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Integrative Medicine vs. Traditional Practice

In considering the “alternative ways of healing and knowing” theme for class this week, as well as the accompanying readings, I was encouraged to push beyond my own traditional conceptualizations of “appropriate” medical care to acknowledge the ways in which complementary, alternative, and oriental medicine can be equally, if not more, beneficial. I felt myself constantly questioning if the potential benefits of fully adopting an integrative approach to medicine could outweigh the potential problems (or perhaps better framed as “additional work”) that such adoption would present.

As I read the report commissioned by the IOM summit, I couldn’t help be surprised at the many ways an integrative medicine approach could be used to aid our ailing health system. For instance, a guiding principle of CAM rests in the idea that interventions that are natural and less invasive should be used whenever possible. Drawing from a prior post of mine regarding the problems of overtreatment in the medical system, I was immediately attracted to this perspective, particularly when evaluating the costs associated with unnecessary medical tests and treatment. I was also attracted to the “continuity of care” ideas put forward. The cost-saving potential in devoting increased effort towards record continuity, site continuity, the continuum of care, and continuity as an attitudinal contract is enormous.

However, as the readings suggest, there are a number of barriers to implementing a wholly integrative medical system that would have to be addressed. The interview results presented by Barrett and colleagues demonstrate the skepticism and perceptions of mistrust shared by CAM practitioners towards those practicing traditional medicine. And, as the IOM report suggests, crafting a sense of competencies for both systems in understanding the perspectives and practices of the other would be essential before an integrative approach could be taken. Cho’s piece also brings to light the ways in which interfering with existing medical systems, specifically oriental medicine and the biomedical practice in Korea, can lead to exploitative and socially-reconstructive consequences.

Ultimately, while my internal debate wasn’t fully resolved, I’m left appreciating the culture-centered approach even more. As the piece on the Druze women notes, rather than beginning with the construction of health as absence (which forms the core of the biomedical model), the elderly Druze women began their articulations of health by expressing their gratitude for the gift of health. Such a response crosses the cultural boundary as our preliminary interviews of those experiencing hunger in rural Indiana share a similar theme. Regardless of system practiced, traditional or alternative, such an approach privileges an understanding of why one practices, opening up spaces for all voices to be heard.

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