Becoming a Partner in the Healing Process
by Ronald R. Parks, M.P.H., M.D.
The notion of Holistic Medicine has been around for many years. But why, now, has interest in this area skyrocketed, grabbed center stage so to speak, and attracted so many new adherents and supporters? I think that the move towards holistic medicine was begun by a few conscious souls rebelling against health care which was high tech, un-personal, authoritarian, and increasingly bureaucratic and commercial. We desired a more caring, humanistic approach – encompassing the mind, body, emotions; to be nurtured and empowered, treated with respect, and made a partner in the healing process.
With the growing interest in holistic medicine, there has become an increasing number of practicing holistic physicians and health care providers who have increasingly put into practice some of these sought-after ideals. They have preferred the safer, less costly, more effective and natural treatments, along with an emphasis on empowerment of the person, as a partner in their own health care and healing. As more of the treatment outcomes of holistic practitioners are getting reported in the scientific literature as showing efficacy, safety, and positive benefits, a greater degree of acceptance and acknowledgment by conventional medicine is being seen. There has been great reluctance to give full support, however, as much of the conventional health care establishment is so wedded to many approaches and technologies that have not proven their merit or superiority to holistic medicine practices.
Financial issues have also been a factor, as hospitals, for example, have become so heavily vested in certain technologies, such as bypass surgery and angioplasties for coronary artery therapies. There is, however, a growing literature showing that, in many cases, more conservative management–especially holistic oriented approaches–work as well, with a tremendous added safety factor. An example would be the impressive heart research study done by Dean Ornish, M.D. He used a holistic approach and showed reversal of coronary artery blockage with arteriography studies, using a nutritional low fat diet, exercise, yoga, and group support. There is also growing body of evidence that chelation therapy, which involves the administration in the vein of a medication called EDTA, improves symptoms associated with coronary artery disease and circulation problems, in a safe, and less costly way than traditional, invasive and surgical procedures for the same problems.
Informed consumers of health care services have been seeking out and switching their health care to holistic health care providers in greater numbers than ever before, because of several more recent factors. One has been the recent major shift in the health care system to corporate medicine, or managed care, with profits and cost saving being the bottom line. These large-sized businesses were initially begun on an ethical basis. The goal was to match good patient care with cost effectiveness, monitored clinical outcomes, and collaborative relationships between providers of care. Managed care providers, however, have often degenerated into what I see as unethical businesses, that lack clinical leadership. They attempt to reduce cost by keeping out sicker patients, tangling medical care and clinical decision-making into a maze of bureaucratic red tape, and providing, in some cases, incentive to clinicians to provide less care. There have also been the large commercial drug companies that have developed and marketed drugs which are less safe and less effective than the more natural alternatives, such as botanical, nutritional, or other holistic approaches used by holistic health care providers.
A recent positive trend has been in the medical schools, which are beginning to invite holistic physicians to lecture or to develop programs in the schools to complement their more conventional curricula. The National Institute of Health has developed an office to support and research holistic and alternative medicine practices. Some states are now passing laws to protect and support the practices of holistic providers, as they have sometimes been the subject of harassment by their more conservative colleagues, for their different orientation, techniques, and approaches to health care. With these current trends, the changing needs and perceptions by a more informed public, and the increasing scientific validation of holistic approaches, I see the holistic paradigm coming of age–the new frontier of health care and human awareness.
Author: Ronald R. Parks, M.P.H., M.D. Originally presented in Baltimore Resource Journal, Vol 9, No. 2, Summer 1995, Baltimore Maryland. Ronald R. Parks, M.P.H., M.D. has completed medical and specialty training in internal medicine and preventive medicine, is board certified in psychiatry, and is a certified Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapist. His current practice specializes in nutritional, preventive medicine and holistic psychiatry, and can be reached at (410) 486-5656.