Nutritional Medicine for the New Millennium

By Richard Lewis

For the last ten years, and maybe even longer, Hugh Riordan, M.D., has said about The Center, “We practice non-acute care medicine the way it will have to be practiced by the year 2000 because we just cannot afford to continue what is being done today.”

” … 1 in 4 Americans … may be using unconventional therapy in addition to conventional medicine …”

We are beginning to see the winds of change blowing. Standard medicine is beginning to look at nutritional medicine with more interest and less contempt.

James Gordon, M.D., wrote in the November issue of American Family Physician. “Twenty years ago, ‘alternative medicine’ was an obscure term, and the techniques to which it referred were all but unknown to the vast majority of American physicians and their patients. Today, many alternative therapies are widely used.”

In 1990, David Eisenberg, M.D., and colleagues surveyed the America  public about the use of unconventional medical treatment, as they called it.  They spent a year studying the data and writing a paper that appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine in January of 1993. Eisenberg found that, “Roughly 1 in 4 Americans who see their medical doctors for a serious health problem [chronic illness] may be using unconventional therapy in addition to conventional medicine for that problem, and 7 of 10 such encounters take place without patients telling their medical doctor that they use unconventional therapy.”

“The most frequent users are educated, upper-income, white Americans in the 25-to 49-year group,” wrote Edward Campion, M.D., in an editorial that appeared in the same issue of the journal. “The reason people go to non-medical practitioners is simple: they want to feel better,” he added.

Dr. Gordon has some suggestions for family physicians concerning alternative medicine. For openers, “It is very important for family physicians to convey a sensitive acceptance of and an openness to all of their patients’ concerns, including their patients’ interest in alternative therapies. This open and sensitive attitude demonstrates the caring and respect that the patients want and have every right to expect.”

This is crucial in this time of HMO’s, PPO’s and Managed Care that tend to limit the amount of time a standard doctor spends with a patient and the information he or she can give the patient.

It is much like a lady who called The Center the other day and said, “You do have compassionate doctors there that will listen to me and not have their hand on the door knob ready to run out of the room after a couple of minutes?”

The time and caring attitude that the nutritional physician gives patients such as those at The Center is what patients are looking for in today’s market. This alone will cause an increased growth in the field of nutritional medicine until, as Gordon suggests, standard doctors such as family physicians embrace it. And the family doctors will probably be the first to do this.

Gordon further suggests, “It is important to begin now to integrate some aspects of alternative medicine into family practice. Mind-body interventions, as well as physical exercise, diet and nutrition will complement any physician’s work.”

To make this possible, insurance companies, including Mutual of Omaha and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Washington and Alaska, have begun offering special plans that cover alternative therapies. When other insurance companies see the economic advantages of nutritional medicine’s approach to healing they will join the parade. As there is a growth in openness between patients and their doctors due to the latter’s acceptance of nutritional medicine and a continued increase in patient satisfaction because of their receiving treatment through nutritional medicine, we will see nutritional medicine becoming more mainstream in the new millennium.

In a recent report in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Catherine Hoffman, ScD, wrote, “we believe that the sheer number of Americans with chronic conditions [est. almost 100 million in 1995] and the health care costs they incur have reached a threshold whereby both health care providers and policy-makers are not only facing health care financing issues, but they must deal with how to transform our health care delivery system so that it better meets the needs of those living with chronic conditions.”

The trend is showing Dr. Riordan to be right. There will be an increasing acceptance of nutritional medicine because it works-as Hoffman points out, and we cannot afford to continue the way we are headed.