Complementary, holistic, integrative, traditional. Whatever your choice of appellation, alternative medicine has always played an important role in society. It’s use spans across natural health products such as herbal medicines, to traditional Chinese, ayurvedic, native North American medicines, to homeopathic preparations, as well as vitamin and mineral supplements. Even as the modern world has shifted to an allopathic-dependent mode of treatment, many people still turn to conventional sources in times of need. Within Canada, more than 70% of people reported having used at least one type of alternative medicine practice in their lives. Regardless of the ongoing debate over the effectiveness of such medical treatments, the fact that so many Canadians are willing to pay for these products and services privately raises the question of how healthcare professionals should be regarding these practices.
Considering the social and cultural factors that constitute the foundation of alternative medicine, healthcare professionals may be expected to approach the topic with a basic level of cultural sensitivity and understanding. Physicians should not totally avoid addressing such topics when they arise with patients, nor should they adopt an overly patronizing attitude. If physicians are too tentative in approaching the topic, patients will be end up in emergency rooms because they were unaware of repercussions resulting from the alternative therapies they were considering. If physicians are too antagonizing, patients will be more likely to end up in emergency rooms because they were too hesitant to approach physicians with any ailments that occurred as a side effect of alternative medicine. Thus, there is an intricate balance that needs to be maintained.
Consider the case of an 11 year old Haudenosaunee girl from Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, who was being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia at a hospital in Hamilton. Although initially she was receiving chemotherapy as treatment, her parents decided to forgo chemotherapy in favor of Aboriginal medicine. At this decision, the physicians and the hospitals urged the courts to remove the girl from her parent’s custody so she could receive proper treatment. The consequent legal battle ended in favor of the girl’s parents but let’s think about what would have happened if the court had ruled in favor of the physicians, and resulted in the girl forcibly undergoing chemotherapy.
An atmosphere of mistrust, anger and resistance would have arisen in the Aboriginal community, making them less likely to trust doctors and approach them with medical problems.This would have compromised the future ability of healthcare providers to provide optimal care to an entire group of people. Here is a situation where instead of trying to enforce treatment, physicians could have initiated a respectful dialogue with the Aboriginal parents. Instead of pushing back overly hard, the physicians and hospital could have been more accommodating and understanding about the parents’ wishes.
This is just one of many examples which demonstrates the need for physician attitudes to be welcoming enough so that people can not only openly discuss their beliefs with their doctors, but consider pursuing alternative medical practices in conjunction with allopathic medicine, if viable. When dealing with alternative medicine, physicians should try their best to educate patients about the potential dangers and repercussions (or in some cases, benefits) of any alternative treatment they seek, but cultural sensitivity should always remain an element of treatment.
References 1. Grant, K. (2015, April 24) “Aboriginal Girl Now Receiving Both Chemo and Traditional Medicine.” The Globe and Mail, 13 May 2018, www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/case-over-cancer -treatment-for-native-girl-is-resolved/article24101800/. 2.Offit, D. P. (2013, June 18). Opinion: Alternative healing or quackery? Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2013/06/18/health/alternative-medicine-offit/index.html 3. Ramsay, C. (2009, September). Unnatural Regulation: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Policy in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.fraserinstitute.org/sites/default/files/Unnatural Regulation.pdf 4. Vogel, L. (2010, September 07). ‘Hodge-podge’ regulation of alternative medicine in Canada. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2934827/