It is common knowledge that there are many forms of health practices in the world today. While western medicine is primarily dominant in Canada and the United States, many complementary and alternative therapies exist to aid in the healing and health promotion process.
Multiple sources* conclude that the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is greatly on the rise and is often utilized to treat a chronic medical condition. However, these practices are not conventional and the public is therefore forced to seek out information on such practices and finance them independently of government support. My contention is that if significant evidence is found to support the use of CAM, should it not then be considered a valuable form of health care and, furthermore, worthy of free public access, equal to that provided of western therapies? How can Canada truly boast a free health care system if it merely offers a one-way path to health? Seeing as multiple factors contribute to illness, it only makes sense that multiple interventions can work together to promote healing.
As a “rescue” medicine, the western approach to health is marvelous in that it is highly effective in emergencies, traumatic injuries, bacterial infections, and some exceedingly complicated surgeries, as well as for performing diagnostic testing and quickly relieving symptoms. Participants from a study done in New Zealand (2008) concurred with such benefits but also concluded that there were limitations to western therapy in that it provided a degree of relief but did not contribute to the improvement of overall health.
Conventional medicine is preoccupied with parts and symptoms and not with whole working systems of matter, energy, thoughts and feelings. It provides poorly for long-term systemic or chronic illnesses such as arthritis, heart disease, and hypertension. Another study showed that the number one reason for health professionals referring patients to CAM was due to patient request, and secondly, because of the ineffectiveness of conventional treatment. Change is therefore crucial to stop the unnecessary distress and create access to non-conventional therapies that have proven effective for people with chronic illnesses and degenerative diseases.
There are many research studies available showing evidence of the effectiveness of CAM. For those of you who are unaware, research studies have ethical guidelines that prevent the withholding of known beneficial treatments. In simpler terms, this essentially means that if there is a known treatment available, it is unethical to provide some participants with the treatment and some without. My point is that if it is not ethical to deny the provision of healing within a study, is it not also unethical to withhold alternative avenues of health care that are known to be advantageous? I am not so bold to suggest that CAM is being forcefully withheld, only identifying that there is limited availability of access to avenues of proven healing.
To explain the relevance of this to me as a nurse, one must know that nurses have long alleged that healing and caring must be approached in a holistic manner that includes the equally important aspects of biological, psychological, emotional, spiritual, and environmental health and illness. I believe nurses have the ability to be not only care takers but also healers for the sick and strong advocates for health promotion. Nurses are compelled to be loyal to patient needs above all else. This articulates to me that the wellbeing and choices of patients must be adhered to and any opportunity to provide an avenue for optimal health should be accessible in order to support such beliefs. Furthermore, with nursing being one of the largest occupations in health care, the potential for advocacy and support within the realms of integrating CAM and emphasizing the many dimensions of health is enormous.
The issue being discussed here is not one that is easily solved. It is a major, complex change that requires the collaboration of all members of health care in Canada, including the people that utilize that care. At this point in time there are only small organizations dedicated to the use and integration of CAM such as the Victoria Community Health Co-operative. This group is a community founded, owned and governed health care organization that offers integrative medicine education and services based on the needs of members. This is a prime example of the interest and lengths that the public will go to obtain their personal health needs. One might argue that there is no need for the entire health system to change if such services are already being accessed by the public. Unfortunately though, Statistics Canada shows that the majority of people accessing these services are those of higher income or education, or those with chronic conditions. One could then deduce that this proves the increased likelihood that one would take advantage of such benefits were the option available to them through means of decreased financial obligation, or an increased awareness and education of the benefits of CAM.
With an increased understanding and accessibility to CAM, I believe a greater number of people would choose the generally less invasive alternative therapies before heading to the nearest medical clinic where one will likely be swiftly prescribed a medication and sent on his or her way. Health promotion could truly be a thing of the present if people are able to access those modalities that support it. I certainly consider it a requirement that such complementary and alternative therapies become a part of modern mainstream medicine in order to increase and support the values of each individual’s health needs.
*All sources available upon request!
To see the extended, fully referenced format of this work, please notify me and I will email you a copy.