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arvind | Alternativemedicinec

The benefits of teaching alternative medicine at universities

Apr 20th 2015 at 3:31 AM

A very important question in front of policy makers these days is to come to a conclusion whether universities should be allowed to teach complementary and alternative medicine(CAM) or not.  Then there is another question that is no less important: are there any other institutions that are more capable of offering evidence-based knowledge of CAM.

The thrust on evidence-based knowledge is necessary because we no longer live in an era when treatment was administered by barber-surgeons who didn’t have any empirical base and who took bloodletting as a prerequisite for treating an ailment of disease. So if had been in that time you would have to consider yourself lucky if you managed to scrap through these bizarre forms of treatments. Thankfully things have changed and today we no longer have to go through those testing ordeals.

The manner in which the health sector has evolved over the centuries has been majorly dictated by the rapid developments, especially in the field of science, which have broken down many myths and have introduced reliable and to a large extent testable-practices. Consequently practices that were caught napping when put to the test fell by the wayside while others that passed scientific experimentations began to get the public’s approval.

The controversy regarding whether to teach CAM in universities was fuelled by a group called Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM) who asked the vice chancellors across the country to reconsider their decision on some of the heath science courses currently on offer.

There is some justification to their argument that high academic standards and scientific evidence should be the parameters based on which a course should be allowed in a university. But the issue is a complex one and one needs to be careful not to fall in the trap of over-generalization or over-simplification, or pass an ill-informed judgment.

Those who are against CAM need to be told that CAM stands for a number of different practices and medicines with many of them having strong scientific evidences backing their effectiveness. Some of the working principles of CAM are drawn from ancient sciences; and you just have to take a peek into history to see how they have been successfully used in the past.

FSM has been arguing that acupuncture is a therapy and pseudo-scientific practice which doesn’t deserve to be taught in universities.  But these claims are more bravado than anything else. Let’s see why.

Substantial clinical evidence has so far been recorded regarding the effectiveness of acupuncture against a host of conditions, including migraines, tension-type headaches and other chronic ailments. If that is not enough, patients can claim medical rebates if they undergo acupuncture as part of a doctor’s examination. Now these are valid reasons why acupuncture deserves to be taught at universities; otherwise potential students would be robbed of a potential career.

One way The National Prescribing Service’s “Review of the Quality of Complementary Medicines Information Resources” can play its part in settling the debate on CAM is by putting in place a mechanism that will help in the identification of CAM resources which are of high quality, evidence-based, pragmatic and well-structured.

It is also important that people don’t jump to any conclusions prematurely, because currently some 70% Australians are using CAM in some form or the other, alongside regular medicines and treatments. Now when so many people are involved it becomes all the more important that the correct information reaches them so that they can take an informed decision; and the onus of providing the correct information squarely falls on the health professionals. Health professionals are therefore required to be knowledgeable about what CAM is; the principle, paradigm and available evidence associated with different contemporary medicines.

Now the best place to get knowledge about CAM is the university, which can play an active role in removing some of the misconceptions linked to it and also test its scientific credentials. It is heartening that there are many institutions that are offering graduate courses in alternative medicine, among others, so that prospective students don’t suffer. In fact they shouldn’t because CAM medical practitioners have a huge role to play in the present times when life-style diseases are at an all time high and people want a respite from hefty medical bills.

That CAM education is a great asset is also proved by a research report which claimed that CAM education inculcates such qualities as improved self-awareness, heightened core competencies ( say, evidence-based practice), besides cultural competency and patient-centered care.

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