Blended medicine is still the exception, not the rule. But over the past few years, it has quietly found a niche in American health care.
According to a widely publicized Harvard Medical School survey, 42 percent of Americans used alternative therapies in 1997, spending more than $21 billion. But even before this survey made headlines, other, largely unpublicized studies revealed a changing attitude toward alternative medicine within the mainstream medical community itself. A growing number of mainstream physicians were open to alternative therapies, and many would consider referring their own patients to alternative practitioners.
Mainstream medicine's growing acceptance of alternative therapies raises a curious question: If alternative therapies go mainstream, are they still alternative?
"Increasingly, they are not-and I'm quite pleased about it," says Alan P. Brauer, M.D. "When people get mainstream therapies in one office, chiropractic in another, and nutrition counseling, biofeedback, and Chinese medicine elsewhere, their care is fragmented. Each practitioner sees only a small portion of the overall therapeutic picture. Having everyone under one roof improves communication and continuity of care."
For years, Dr. Brauer was a medical iconoclast who experienced professional ostracism because he included alternative therapies in his practice. "Initially, I got a lot of criticism from other doctors in my area," he recalls. "But physicians are much more accepting today, now that so many unconventional therapies are being shown to have a sound basis in science."
"Mainstream medicine doesn't have all the answers," says Anne Simons, M.D. "Good research shows that for many conditions, alternative therapies can help. When I have a cold, I often take echinacea because several studies show that it's an antiviral immune stimulant. I think doctors should prescribe whatever works best. If what works best is a safe alternative treatment, it's fine with me."