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Alternative Vs. Conventional: Why Don't Doctors Get It

July 21, 2004 | 18,976 views
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By Dr. Joseph Mercola
     with Laina Krisik

If you live in the United States and need medical care or treatment for a disease you can follow one of two paths to better health--conventional or alternative. In making this decision it is important to know the differences between the two practices.

A Comparison of Conventional to Alternative Medicine

Conventional (Disease-based Model)

  • Offers the best medicine in surgeries or trauma care

  • Treatment of immune health-related conditions routinely consists of prescribing drugs or recommending medical procedures, which are often invasive

  • Targets treating symptoms, not the underlying causes

  • Treats the human body in parts, not as a whole

  • Medical schools are set up by organ specific departments that don't share any kind of relationship with one another

  • The shaping of conventional medical doctors is based upon using "rescue medicine," not finding treatment and prevention alternatives for illnesses

Alternative Medicine (Prevention-based Model)

  • Approaches medical treatment by placing its focus primarily on proactive measures

  • Treats the condition, not the symptoms

  • More cost effective

  • Treatment targets the whole body

The growing number of people turning to alternative therapies is growing stronger and is becoming more and more the chosen form of medical treatment among Americans.

Just consider these statistics:

  • One out of every three Americans uses some kind of alternative medicine

  • Between 1990 and 1997 there was a 47 percent increase in visits to alternative practitioners, from 427 million to 629 million, bypassing the estimated total number of visits made to all conventional primary care doctors in 1997

As these statistics reveal the rapidly increasing number of people choosing alternative therapies as a form of treatment, the debated question among the health care industry is, "Why don't more conventional doctors recommend alternative medicine?"

Pharmaceutical Ties

The driving force behind the continuing growth of conventional medicine has been the pharmaceutical industry, embraced by both doctors and pharmacists, who calculate their worth through treating disease by prescribing medications. For example, if a patient is diagnosed with breast cancer, the protocol for the doctor is to prescribe tamoxifen. If a patient is diagnosed with schizophrenia, clozaril is prescribed.

Medical Schools Receive Funding From Drug Companies

Most medical schools receive a huge chunk of funding from the pharmaceutical industry that has a vested interest in marketing their medicines. Evidence of this could be seen in Pfizer Inc, a company that develops produces and markets the leading prescription medications for humans and offers several scholarships and grants to American Medical Schools.

The Mass Media Favors Drug Advertising

Just as pharmaceutical companies are all about making profits, so is the mass media and this is clearly exposed in the high numbers of drug commercials consumers are exposed to every day. Drug ads equal profits for the media.

The number of mass media commercials has exploded over the past few years. In 1999, drug companies spent $1.8 billion on direct-to-consumer advertisements for prescription drugs. Even more disturbing, it was discovered that around 10 percent of the people who watched the commercials inquired to their doctor about the specific drugs.

Even the American Medical Association maintains a relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. If you go to their homepage you will find a sizable advertisement for the statin, Crestor.

Research Discrepancies

The scale for funding of medical research is disproportionately tipped to favor conventional medicine over alternative medicine. An example of this could be seen in the 0.08 percent of the British National Health Service research budget set aside for alternative research. Also, out of $12 billion allocated every year by Congress to the National Institutes of Health, a mere $5.4 million goes to the Office of Alternative Medicine to investigate the claims of approximately 50 therapies.

The lack of alternative medicine research funding results in three critical consequences:

  • The prevention of relevant research projects

  • It negatively affects the creation of a research infrastructure similar to the one of conventional medicine

  • Deters well-trained career scientists from entering into the field

Questionable Research

One of the biggest complaints the conventional medical industry has against alternative medicine is the lack of scientific research to support their practices.

Ironically, much of the research on conventional medicine has raised many speculations over validity issues. An example of this is the hundreds of articles published in top medical journals claimed to be written by academic researchers that are actually written by ghostwriters working for agencies, which receive large amounts of money from pharmaceutical companies to market their products. These are the very journals medical professionals rely on when determining treatment options.

Over 60 percent of clinical studies that involve human participants get financial backing from drug companies, not from the federal government. Studies also show that it is often common for companies to hold off on the publication of data that reveal their drugs are ineffective.

The conventional medical model is fatally flawed and is largely profit-driven by the pharmaceutical industry that influences the media through drug advertisements. Evidence that the American public is becoming discouraged with conventional medicine has become obvious in the growing numbers turning to alternative treatments for answers.

On the other hand, convincing doctors and the media the value of alternative medicine might be a long way off considering their tight ties with drug companies. Profit-hungry drug companies won't be making the shift to change the attitude of conventional doctors any time soon. There is too much money at stake for them to lose. That leaves it up to us to take control over our own health and make the changes.

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