The Evolution of Alternative Medicine

The Atlantic just published a really great article about how attitudes towards and acceptance of CAM treatments and integrative care has changed over the years.

The article touches on research being done about the placebo effect and the power of one’s own body to heal, something I’ve written about elsewhere. It talks about how modern medicine has evolved since the 1960s to focus more on overall wellness, instead of just acute disease treatment:

The actual treatments they use vary, but what ties integrative doctors together is their focus on chronic disease and their effort to create an abstract condition called wellness. In the process, they’re scrutinizing many therapies that were once considered alternative, subjecting them to the scientific method and then using them the same way they’d incorporate any other evidence-based medicine.

This approach is forcing the entire medical community to grapple with certain questions: How has the role of a doctor changed over the years? Are there better ways to treat the kinds of health problems that can usually only be managed, not cured? And how do you gather evidence on therapies that involve not only the body but also the mind?

The article does a great job discussing chronic pain, both how widespread it is and how difficult it is to treatment with modern medicine. There’s a lot of research being done at NIH and its newly named NCCIH (National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health) about how best to manage pain (eg, how does yoga affect health?), and I can’t wait to read more about what they’ve found.

Going one step further than the scope of this article, and circling it back to the primary focus of this blog, how much research will it take before insurance companies understand that the face of medicine is changing? If chronic pain is so widespread (and it is), and the most beneficial treatments are traditional medicine (acupuncture), complementary care (massage), and day-to-day wellness (yoga and meditation), when will insurance companies decide that this is where they should be focusing? If not for the goal of improving health (none of us are that naive!), then certainly for the goal of improving their bottom line.

Properly managing chronic pain improves health, which lowers costs. Simple as that.

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