Skeptical doctors slowly yielding to alternate cures The school in September opened a unit to use and test non-traditional cancer therapies, including acupuncture, relaxation and Chinese herbs. And the medical college may start an acupuncture school.
- Harvard University Medical School and others offer courses that introduce future doctors to the alternative treatments.
- Columbia Presbyterian Medical Hospital in New York City is testing touch therapy by using nurses like Hofacker during heart surgery.
- The U. S. National Institute of Health opened an office to study alternative medicine
- And a few health insures, such as Guardian Life Insurance of America, now pay for acupuncture, massage and medicinal herbs.
The converts are responding to a growing legion of patients who are voting with their feet – and their dollars – in favor of natural remedies that Asian cultures have used almost exclusively for centuries.
That said, however, the majority of the U.S. medical community remains highly skeptical about the vast array of nontraditional treatment, which they consider unproven. Many physicians say they know of patients who have mortgaged their houses to pay for exotic and unproven treatments such as shark cartilage, coffee enemas, magnet therapy and other ineffective cancer “cures.”
“There are just a lot of charlatans out there, “says Dr. Sharlene Weiss, head of the new UM cancer “There are just a lot of charlatans out there, “says Dr. Sharlene Weiss, Astor says, counselors will discuss the role of religious faith.
Almost 50 studies are looking at whether massage benefits seriously ill children, burn victims, arthritis sufferers and more, File days.”The studies are need to document the effects for the medical community to buy into them,” Field says. “The doctors need to feel safe and that they won’t be sued.”
At Imperial Point hospital, what captured doctors’ attention was the notion that the mind can speed up the body’s healing. Massage, touch healing, meditation, aromatherapy, music, biofeedback and others promote the mind and
spirit?” says center director Brenda Astor, “Well, that’s a great deal unit, the Courtelis Center for Research and Treatment in Psychosocial Oncology. “People need to be careful.”
There does appear to be a middle ground, however. “There are zealots on both sides. Neither one is right all the time. You have to pick and choose what’s best for each patient,” says Dr. William Sunshine, an arthritis and pain specialist in Delray Beach who uses massage, relaxation and mind-body methods, as well as traditional means.
“The doctors are beginning to realize there is a certain patient population that doesn’t respond to conventional medicine,” Sunshine says. ~Betty and Bill Hawkins of Fort Lauderdale pay $300 a month for vitamins, enzymes, herbal arthritis treatments and the like. They adopted them after Betty was given six months to live by doctors treating her intestinal cancer. That was in 1974. She’s well today.
“These doctors won’t try things, even if you’re desperate,” Betty says.
“If you have a death sentence hanging over you, you don’t want to wait 25 years for research.”
Many patients feel as the Hawkinses do. They complain about impersonal doctors, painful treatments that don’t work, and the staggering cost of traditional medicine. An often-quoted 1993 study found that one-third of patients use unconventional care, including vitamin supplements, and that they spent $13.7 billion on it, more than on all other medicine.
Bill Rogers, a Fort Lauderdale real estate broker, turned to Dr. Lee for acupuncture after surgeons said he needed major pelvic work to solve persistent back pain from a 1990 motorcycle crash. The surgery risked paralysis. The
needles all but ended his pain.
“The surgeon laughed. But you can’t deny the results,” Rogers says.~ But some doctors do doubt it. No studies using rigorous, scientific methods have proven the success of any such therapy, says Dr. Barry Tepperman, radiation oncologist and president of the Broward County Medical Association. Alternative remedies may be nothing more than placebos that work only because the patient believes they will, he and others say.
“The body has a great ability to heal itself,” says Dr. Yank Coble, a national board member of American Medical Association. “If something else is being given at the same time, the tendency is to give that treatment the credit.”
Skeptics say the boom in natural remedies found in health-food stores stems from a 1994 federal law deregulating the industry. Manufacturers can now make any claim in ads, just not on the package. The result: big publicity campaigns.
“People buy what they hear about,” says Dr. William Jarvis president of the National Council Against Health Fraud. “It’s driven by some savvy,behind -the scenes marketing.”
Some examples: Mexican yams for birth control, beta-carotene to eliminate free radical.
Doctors recognize that herbal remedies have been used for centuries, and plants are the basis of perhaps 40 percent of Western medicines.
Jarvis, however, says proof is scant about which herbs work for which ailment, or about standard doses. Some herb, such as ephedra marketed to teens as Herbal Ecstasy, can even cause sickness or death.
Patients may wander into danger if they abandon their doctors or rely too much on alternative medicine, doctors say.
“Some [conventional] treatments are painful, but we know they work,” says Dr. Brent Schillenger of Boca Raton, president of the Palm Beach County Medical Society. “If you have something that works 99 percent of the time, why substitute?”
And yet even as skepticism remains, science is starting to lend credence to some complementary therapies.
Small studies have shown that acupuncture relieves pain – especially chronic pain – as well as Western medicine does. The Chinese say needles rebalance the body’s energy, Qi (pronounced chee). Western doctors prefer the theory that the needles stimulate production of the body’s painkillers. Preliminary results also suggest that acupuncture prompts the immune system to produce more disease-fighting antibodies, UM researchers say.
To create a relaxing environment, Imperial Point, owned by the tax-assisted North Broward Hospital District, has repainted bile-green walls a soothing mauve. Harsh fluorescent lights will be replaced by soft lamps or sunlight. When the center opens in September, patients will find classes on spirituality, dreams and meditation. Patients may
be sent to touch therapists and acupuncturist. If the patient wishes, realization. Imagery and hypnotherapy will teach patients to envision their bodies healing.
“The old way is to say, “It’s the body, why worry about of what happens in the body.”
For a hospital to take such a strong position breaks new ground in Broward County.
Dr. Richard Ott, once the hospital chief of staff, has been pushing theproject for four years. “We want to look at what works and what doesn’twork,” Ott says. “Physicians are data-driven. That’s the way we’re trained. If you show them [with studies], there’ no reason for them not to do it.”
Memorial Hospital West in Pembroke Pines already uses mind-body and relaxation methods for heart surgery patients. The tax-assisted hospital may soon offer a program to the public as a stress buster, as well.
Even Jarvis, the skeptic, can’t argue with that. He uses acupuncture at his California practice, and praised some mind-body and relaxation methods. But he warns those can only go so far. “See if prayer and positive thinking and energy can save a diabetic kid who doesn’t not take insulin,” Jarvis says.
Still, practitioners say you can’t argue with results. At Memorial Regional in Hollywood, nurse Linda Payne uses a type of touch therapy – called Reiki- for patients with depression or anxiety. She learned it a year ago after Reiki sessions ended a friend’s neck pains.
“I went in as a skeptic. I thought, “Yeah, right, they’re going to cure you by running their hand over your body,” Payne says, “Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you think it’s true or not for it to work.”
Insurers not sure about alternative medicine
As patients and doctors grow more open to alternative medicine, health insurers are being persuaded to pay.
Guardian Life Insurance Co. of America and other group health plans will pay for massages and acupuncture if an extra premium is paid for coverage.
“We’ll cover whatever they want, within reason, as long as it’s medically justified and medically necessary. ” Guardian spokesman Bob Gillespie says. “The cost [of alternative therapies] is lower and they seem to save money.”
Prudential Health Insurance now pays for some therapies, too. HIP Health Plan of Florida Inc. pays for massages if doctors declare a medical need. Still, the majority of health maintenance organizations pay for no unconventional treatment.
Most doctors remain skeptical about the medical benefits of alternative care, from Chinese herbs to relaxation therapies. Likewise, few employers have been willing to pay extra to add alternative care to their policies.
That’s because those treatments have not been proven in scientific studies in major medical journals, says Christy W. Bell, regional executive director of Humana Medical Plan, the largest HMO in South Florida.
” Employers tend to want to know before paying that it will work, that is it’s not just a social perk.” ” Bell says, ” No one has asked for it. “Medicare does not pay either. “With Medicare, it’s all politics, it’s all money,” says Yao Wu Lee, who owns four Washington Acupuncture Centers in South Florida. “The drug companies and the medical profession keep out competition.”
But if alternative therapies prove to be beneficial, and if they remain less costly than conventional medicine, HMO officials say the doors will open wider.
“Things change a lot in this business,” says HIP spokeswoman Kathy Bradley. “Who knows what we’ll be covering in six months?”
– Bob LaMendola