Holistic treatment options: Should hospitals in India adopt alternative therapies?
Titash Roy Choudhury
The universe of alternative medicine is ever expanding with new benefits being discovered everyday. India has been a powerhouse for most of the alternative therapies for more than hundred years. But are the Indian patients benefitting from these age-old & effective methods and therapies or in the wake of modern medicine are only restricted to using allopathic medications. Experts analyse the current situation.
Alternative therapies or traditional medicine is a system that relies on nature for remedies. This system comprises ancient medicinal disciplines like ayurveda, homeopathy or therapies like acupuncture, unani or yoga, utilises natural resources and provides a complete treatment, by taking into account the physical, mental and spiritual healing. Alternative therapies have long become a mandatory part of medical institutions in countries like the US, while private hospitals around the world are slowly and gradually accommodating alternative medicine along with the existing modern medicine or allopathic treatment to provide the patients with a more holistic treatment. In India too there is a demand for these alternative methods. So, with an increasing demand for a more holistic treatment should hospitals in India also adopt alternative therapies?
Senior Consultant Neurologist, Indraprastha Apollo Hopsital, New Delhi
The objection is not so much in the good effects of such proven therapies and methods as to the administrative and logistic hurdles they would have to face. Clandestinely, many doctors may prefer ginger tea and hot gargles for a sore throat rather than the medications they would prescribe to a patient but when the patients come to them with a cough or flu, they would be more bothered about finding out if that is dengue or swine flu or that your recent ‘gas’ complaint or breathlessness may be concealing a cardiac disease.
For a patient of an acute stroke, where proven guidelines are laid down for revival, an alternative provided on the same platform, at the same juncture, is to betray the very reasoning of science. There are these acute situations ever so often, that by previous studies, alternatives have not shown to be of benefit.
That said, private hospitals may start offering alternative medications in a limited manner that does not confuse the patient in taking a decision compromising on the real scientific issues of a disease emergency. These departments can be differently designed as ‘kiosks’ or ‘lounges’, so that the importance is not denied, and yet the firm principles on which modern medicine stands today, are not diluted. To manage that one would need to have to be some sort of marketing wizardry!
The main objective of any doctor should be that of providing the best treatment to their patients and if that requires an integration of modern and traditional medicines they should not hesitate to implement it. Patients should have the right to choose the kind of treatment he or she thinks best and any hospital should have the provision to provide them with that privilege. But in India due to the economic power of pharma companies and the doctors, only one system has been chosen and projected as the best possible option to the people. There exists a monopoly in the healthcare system, which is dominated by allopathy, where as there is more science and efficacy proven in ayurveda than in allopathy. There are also more registered and qualified ayurvedic doctors in India than in allopathy; still the patients have to reel under the pressure of side-effects of drugs and undergo expensive and exhaustive process of never-ending tests. The government is talking about cost-effective and affordable medicines but most of the allopathic medicines today are getting costlier day by day. Except in emergences or serious cases like blood clotting or liver problems, the alternative medicines have proven effective and equally good. And herein we require an integrated healthcare system that will provide patients with more options and alternatives. Five year down the line this is what all the doctors will be talking about. With the growing support from the government, which for the last few years has been investing in the production, distribution and supplies of alternative medicines like ayurveda, this is the perfect time for private hospitals to make it a part of their prevailing system and open departments for providing a more holistic treatment to the patients.
Deputy General Manager, Quality Control/Quality Assuarance, Amrutanjan Health Care Ltd, Chennai
The root causes of most of the chronic diseases are mental and stress related and western medicine has failed to deal with these chronic diseases. In contrast, ancient therapies have an excellent record of curing the chronic diseases that do not respond well to western medicine. Chronic diseases that cannot be cured but can be controlled are the main targets for alternate therapies. It may take a long time to alleviate the pain or disease but they are inexpensive when compared to modern medicine, they are natural and do not have side-effects and provides long term relief. Due to these reasons people are now shifting to alternate therapies.
An alternate therapy success varies from person to person and depends on psychology, anatomy and metabolism of individuals. Selection of alternate therapy should be based on scientific background and healthcare professionals should have a sound knowledge and experience of the therapies. Some regulations should be put forward by responsible authorities (such as Indian Medical Council etc) for alternate medicine and therapy and more awareness has to be created among the patients.
In a nutshell, alternative therapies are the need of the hour to be adopted by private hospitals with qualified and experienced healthcare professionals. Alternative therapies such as ayurveda, yoga, stress relief councelling and yogic postures & exercises can be adopted after careful review of clinical examination results.
Chairman and Managing Director, Medanta – The Medicity, Gurgaon
All hospitals should adopt and integrate parallel streams of medical systems co-existing in the community. In India, it is especially relevant as we cannot afford to follow healthcare programmes, which leave large portions of our citizens out of its benefits. An example demonstrating the failure of such approach is the US which spends more on healthcare than any other developed nation. In 2005, the US spent $2 trillion in healthcare. It is projected to reach $4 trillion by 2015, when it is predicted to leave 47 million Americans medically unprotected. Developing nations with much lesser budget, more population, more diseases and far less infrastructure following the same path as these larger economies will be attempting suicide. This realisation commits me to reiterate the need for integrated medical facilities in India.
Though different models of co-existence are possible, I prefer the integrative medicine approach. Alternative medicine is the concept of a clear alternative to modern medicine, whereas complementary medicine denotes useful co-existence. We at Medanta practice Integrative medicine (IM). IM is the more evidence-based approach of complementary medicine and denotes ongoing progression in the co-existential relationship. Medical facilities in India should adopt this strategy and implement it so as to provide the Indian population with the benefit of ancient medical systems like ayurveda.
Consultant Acupuncturist, New Delhi
Hospitals in India should make alternative medicine system a part of their structure. Antibiotics or surgeries can be good for emergencies or investigation but for more lasting result at times alternative therapies gives better results. I have been practicing acupuncture for the last thirty years and there have been many cases in asthma and psychiatric treatment where the patient has received extremely good results from acupuncture even after getting off the medication. Today, patients are more conscious about their health and most of my patients come to me on their own, so the demand for such alternative therapies does exist among Indians. And the private hospitals in India should exploit that demand and provide the patients with a holistic treatment under one roof. And if the private hospitals adopt alternative therapies then it would also become less hassle for the patients to search for other options. Alternative therapies like acupuncture or ayurveda mostly have a lasting result and since it is drugless treatment there are very less chances of side-effects. So for some cases if the disease cannot be taken care of by modern medicines and procedures then the doctors should take help of alternative methods. But till now private hospitals have not shown any such initiative since there is no government recognition for such therapies in India and the doctors have very poor knowledge regarding such alternative methods. So, if we want hospitals in India to adopt these therapies the government should recognise these ancient therapies and the doctors should become more aware of the various kinds of alternative therapies and their usefulness.
Zonal Director, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, New Delhi
There are just two types of medicine — one that works and one that does not work. The word alternative medicine is actually self-contradictory. Basically, it can be defined as any medicine that does not fall under the umbrella of conventional medicine or evidence-based medicine. These are usually outcome of the historical or cultural practices. The origin of alternative medicine is as varied as its practices. We may have a lot of things to pick up from these practices provided there is a procedure of documentation or enough evidence or date that can be churned out to confirm their clinical outcomes.
There are more than 100 systems of alternative medicines still in practice all over the world. Every country, region or area has its own traditional systems of health and medical care such as for the Chinese it is acupuncture, for the French, magnetic healing; for the Germans, heilpraxis; for the English-herbalism; for India-ayurveda; for the Muslim countries-unani; for the Southern part of the country-siddha; for Japan-shiatsu etc.
Be it any hospital, private or government, focus should be on evidence-based medicine. At the end of the day it is the human life that is at stake. And hit and trials procedure cannot be followed when there is a human life in question. We have to stop the practice of treating humans as guinea pigs. So, anything with complete evidence-based medicine that is completely tested and tried continues to stay as medicine.
Consultant Psychiatrist, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Max Healthcare, New Delhi
When we talk about alternative medicine we have a wide spectrum of therapies and methods in front of us and adopting all off them will become a cumbersome process. I do not see an immediate need of opening an entire department on say maybe reiki or acupuncture or reflexology, instead we can adopt the alternative methods in disease-specific cases. In my opinion alternative medicine should be that which looks into ‘disease management’. All the techniques and methods of alternative medicines that can help in a complete, holistic management of a disease should be encompassed into comprehensive medical management of the diseases and that way a better treatment can be provided to the patients. What this means is that rather than having general alternative medicine approach, we go disease specific, we take help of alternative medicine if any particular disease or case requires it. And even in the scenario of adopting alternative medicine for specific diseases only techniques, which have been proven to be effective and has evidence to show that when these techniques are used in the treatment of diseases the results are positive, should be utilised. Healthcare would benefit from a comprehensive and holistic approach, but needs to be within ‘evidence-based treatment’ and the focus should be on disease management.