Get one of the alt-med types on the subject of what they call ‘western’ medicine and they soon start banging on about how it is reductionist as opposed to their ‘holistic’ approach. It may be ‘holistic’ (though it usually isn’t) but each alt-med discipline has its own one-size-fits-all approach: go to a homeopath get a sugar pill, go to a chiropractor get your neck cracked as part of a bogus treatment with not a jot of evidence to support it etc. Western medicine as supplied by the NHS in fact offers an integrated multi-disciplinary approach.
Consider my own experience with a shoulder problem that was getting steadily worse – pain and restricted movement. I went to the doctor as one does and was prescibed diclofenac. This resulted in getting rid of the pain (for a few hours after each tablet) but did not do much for the mobility. This sounds like the typical doctor as portrayed by an alt-med practitioner – merely masking symptoms. However the same doctor also referred me to Lewisham Hospital’s physiotherapy department.
The physiotherapist observed my movements and asked questions about my work and previous injuries – holistic enough to keep anyone happy. She prescibed a series of excercises which appear to have worked; I no longer need the medication and most of the joint mobility has been regained. I am not claiming that this proves beyond doubt that this approach would always been correct. Anecdote is not evidence; studies of large numbers of patients would be needed to establish that.
My point is this: my GP recognised when the knowledge and skills of a different profession were needed, the physiotherapist based her diagnosis on a knowledge of the muscular-skeletal system. If I had gone to an alternative practitioner, would my condition have been successfully treated? Perhaps, if I had selected an osteopath but would a homeopath or naturopath ever have acceped that their medications were of no use and that a different discipline was needed?
The supposedly ‘reductionist’ medical care on offer by the NHS in fact offers a whole raft of disciplines and professions so that the patient can receive the appropriate care. This is not likely to be the case at an alt-med practice.