Friday, August 15, 2008

"Western Medicine"

I wasn't feeling very feisty earlier today when a friend expressed doubts about "Western medicine" as distinguished, she said, from "holistic" medicine. Had I been feeling a little more feisty, I might have observed that "Western" and "holistic" don't cut a very sharp or meaningful contrast for a few reasons:

  • Medical practitioners who attained their credentials in an institution that follows an occidental tradition can nevertheless practice holistically if they are so inclined -- that is, consider the patient's broader health above and beyond the narrow complaint. A Harvard- or Oxford-educated doctor can and indeed should ask her pregnant patient about her diet and medical history, whether or not it foreseeably and directly concerns the chest pains she has shown up to report.
  • Medical treatments are not cardinal-directional, but they are either proven or unproven, which is to say either scientifically proven or not. Or maybe they are inbetween -- in a state such that the research, peer review, and other scientific vetting is still in progress.
  • Particular treatments can be an ambiguous mix that defies "holistic" and "scientific" as proper labels -- light therapy, for example, appears to be a scientifically credible treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and delayed sleep-phase syndrome. As such, it has a place in any medical practice, regardless of how the practitioner self-labels. But it has no proven effect on, say, narcolepsy or severe depression, so a doctor who prescribed it for both SAD and narcolepsy would be straddling a line.
My feistiness aside, the denialism blog is a superb resource for science-based medicine and the would-be alternatives to it. That's one to bookmark or add to your feed reader if this topic grabs you.

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