You check in at the hospital for chronic back pain. The doctor asks you to follow her past the MRI machines and operating room to a recently converted yoga studio. An unrolled mat awaits. En route you peek your head into an adjacent treatment room to watch an acupuncturist needling a patient. Rows of IV drips and homeopathic remedies line the shelves.
This not uncommon scene plays out in many small centers across the nation. Yet as Stat News reports, some of the country’s top hospitals and institutions are offering the same modalities, to mixed reviews. Staff and administrators claim to be listening to patient desires. Critics state this is not good medicine.
Part of the problem is that the numerous therapeutic modalities existing outside of the purview of ‘Western’ medicine are lumped together into the ambiguous ‘alternative therapies.’ Yoga and meditation, for example, have been clinically studied over the last few decades, showing promising results for pain relief, anxiety, and cognitive functioning. Homeopathy and ‘energy healing,’ however, have at best been shown to be no better than the placebo response.
When dealing with the common cold, using an ineffective or unproven therapy such as a homeopathic proving is largely benign—the placebo response might prove helpful in such circumstances. But this trend is more insidious, Stat reports. The “spa-like wellness centers” are branding their own forms of mysticism, offering questionable treatments for cancer, heart disease, and chronic pain.
Duke even markets a pediatric program that suggests on its website that alternative medicine, including “detoxification programs” and “botanical medicines,” can help children with conditions ranging from autism to asthma to ADHD.
Separating wheat from chaff is challenging in the modern medical environment. Our emotions and perceptions really do play a role in healing, a major criticism of the ‘cold mechanisms’ of Western medicine. One 1984 study found that the view from your hospital room influences healing time; more recent research suggests that hospital gardens are effective in speeding recovery. This makes sense as our environment always affects our nervous and immune systems. Being in a calm, peaceful space or gazing at a mountain lifts our mood, which aids healing.