Complementary Alternative Therapies (CAM) were once laughed at by Western medical groups as scientific fraud.

Today they are accepted by many members of the health industry, including some Doctors.

Where is the proof that their products are cost effective and useful?

Here are some figures on money spent on alternative therapies.

  • Americans are currently spending 18% of GPD on healthcare services.
  • 20% of Americans pay for at least one alternative therapy.
  • An estimated 9.2% of American out of pocket cost health care costs are going on alternative therapies.
  • This amounts to$30.2 billion being spent on out-of-pocket on complementary healthcare in America every year.

“…many people who are neither foolish nor ill-educated still cling fervently to beliefs that fly in the face of well-established research”Social and judgmental biases that make inert treatments seem to work – Barry L. Beyerstein

Like private hospitals, alternative therapies are treated differently under the law, to mainstream medical services.

This means there is not a ‘level playing field’ between mainstream and alternative therapies. Yet both, in economic terms are competing for the same customers.

  • Alternative therapies do not have to pass rigorous and expensive clinical trials in the same way that pharmaceutical goods or medical devices do.
  • Alternative health professionals do have associations, but are largely self regulated.

Doctors around the world have asked (with justification) why some alternative therapies are being allowed to publicly make a range of completely unsustained claims, while operating a for-profit business. The response to Doctors criticism has not always been positive.

One Australian Doctor has faced litigation and costly legal battles, after querying the scientific validity of weight loss product.

Dr Ken Harvey is Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University.

He is involved in a number of Australian health organisations including the Consumers Health Forum Australia and Friends of Science in Medicine. He also runs the website Medreach where topics like poor regulation of alternative therapies is discussed.

Dr Ken Harvey

“People tend to cherry pick. They tend to choose which science they want to believe.“
Steven Novella, MD

Both mainstream and alternative healthcare needs scrutiny of the money they spend and outcomes they achieved, in my opinion.

If you going into a modern Emergency Department you will see millions of dollars in the latest technology and specialised medical and nursing staff. While bells ring, computers beep and machines ting, patients are lined up on narrow trolleys, patiently waiting to be assessed and treated.

Many of these patients are in their eighties and nineties.

Coughing, crying out, confused, wanting to go to the toilet and wanting… a cup of tea, someone to hold their hand, explain what is going on, and call their families.

In too many cases these elderly people have been brought in by ambulance from private nursing homes. Where they might have received more appropriate treatment.

It is expensive to pay qualified nurses to provide complex medical and end of life care. However it currently costs nothing to call an ambulance and have a complex patient shipped off to hospital.

The forces that drive healthcare are driven by money, cutting overheads, and maximising profits.

And the patients (not consumers!), have very little control over their circumstances, or knowledge of the funding model they being used in.

If you go into one of the many alternative health shops springing up in well-heeled areas, you will see expensive products, beautifully packaged.

Bars of scented soap with silk ties. Tiny vials of aromatherapy oils with elegant pictures of roses and herbs on the label. The promise of less anxiety, a better nights sleep and losing those unwanted pounds.

A female audience is overwhelmingly targeted.

But what you won’t see is papers published in authoritative journals about the effectiveness of these treatments. After many years of alternative therapies being studied, very few can prove in clinical trials that they are any more effective than… a cold glass of champagne.

The fact is that profits drives healthcare, whether it is alternative, mainstream, private or public. And patients have very little information about who is making what, or what role they are playing in the business transactions.

Healthcare is one of the wealthiest industries in the western world. It is the largest single employer in many countries.

Health care companies are after one thing.

Your money.

Make sure you are getting value, before you part with it.

© Wikihospitals April 2018