by Chris Butterfield
Something is happening in the field of alternative medicine in America something big. Theres a wave coming in, and the recent mass marketing of dietary supplements may be just the vanguard.
Surfs up, and Bastyr University Clinic Medical Director Jane Guiltinan, N.D. is one of the first surfers to get on her board the Harborview Medical Center Board of Trustees, that is.
On January 4, Guiltinan was appointed to the 13-member board in a 9-4 confirmation vote by the King County Council and given a job detail of helping to set the direction of the Level 1 trauma center for Washington, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. The nations first appointment of a naturopath to the board of a primary-care institution, Guiltinan figures to be the status quo rather than the exception.
"There is unprecedented interest in exploring the potential synergy between conventional medicine and these (alternative, complementary, or unconventional medicine) healing modalities, in response to both significant consumer demand and a desire to reduce escalating health care costs." So says a 1998 report conducted by The Hartman Group in conjunction with Bastyr University, entitled Integrated Health Care: Consumer Use and Attitudes.
The study found an astounding future use potential for alternative medicine of more than five times the respondents current usage levels in many different, often obscure, categories. These included energy healing, Oriental medicine, naturopathic medicine, and aromatherapy. In addition, it is almost comical to see that 72% of the respondents in a 1993 report entitled "Unconventional Medicine in the United States: Prevalence, Costs and Patterns of Use" (Eisenberg et al), published in The New England Journal of Medicine, "did not inform their medical doctor of their involvement with alternative medicine." A scant five years later in the Hartman survey, only 13% of the respondents followed suit.
Such is the information that the King County Council was presented with when asked to make their decision on Councilwoman Maggi Fimias proposal to appoint Guiltinan. Guiltinans nomination was met with some initial resistance by several Harborview doctors and council members who expressed concerns regarding a potential conflict of interest due to her association with Bastyr, as well as the councils right to set the agenda of a public institution. Upon review, these concerns were found to have no legal standing.
Guiltinan joins an already diverse board make-up, which includes an attorney, a banker, and an executive director of a private research company among its various health experts.
"This appointment represents a smart business move by the Council to keep our medical center competitive in all aspects of the medical field," said Council member Kent Pullen in a King County Council public relations news release. "Dr. Guiltinan can only enhance and improve the excellent care Harborview already provides to its patients."
Guiltinan made it clear that she did not intend to push an alternative medicine agenda on Harborview, rather intending to help maintain the leadership role that it currently holds among medical institutions.
"I think conventional medicine has offered, and continues to offer, amazing things to people," she said.
According to Guiltinan, where conventional medicine sometimes falls short is in dealing with people who have chronic degenerative conditions for which the only approach currently available is to apply conventional medicine.
"The person may or may not be seeing improvement of their condition, and they may also be experiencing side effects and problems from all the medications that theyve been on. That is where complementary and alternative medicine can play a valuable role," she said.
In conventional medicines place, she proposes a combination of alternative medicine and an all-around reduction of a persons risk factors.
"I really dont think that cardiovascular disease is an inevitable consequence of growing old," Guiltinan said. "To a very large extent in this country, its a preventable disease that has been brought on by modifiable risk factors, and I dont see conventional medicine being all that effective in getting people to change those risk factors. Whether complementary medicine can do it or not if given a chance is another question, because it really depends on the person, not on the medicine."
In the Hartman Study, forty percent of the respondents indicated that they would use alternative medicine if it were covered more extensively in their health insurance plans. However, one of the major holdups preventing further adoption of alternative medicine under healthcare plans is the lack of clinical testing, or effective communication of existing scientific research, to verify the validity of alternative medicine.
Still, Washington State remains very progressive in that regard, and with the anticipated public demand for its coverage, full alternative medicine coverage is very likely for the future.
"If consumers demand, and if employers support the consumer demand when theyre buying their insurance contracts, I think that coverage to alternatives will expand," Guiltinan said.
However, Guiltinan warned that consumers should be wary of the recent mass-marketing techniques that hype certain herbs as cure-all fixes, and the idea in some circles that complementary medicine could someday fully replace conventional medicine.
"If someone uses complementary medicines as if theyre substitutes for conventional medicine and waits until they already have significant heart disease and thinks that they can take Hawthorn berry and cure it, theyre nuts," she said.
"I think the marketing and hyping of herbs and food supplements as the answer to everything
is ludicrous and is really distorting what the principles of complementary medicine are all about.
"The real problem is, how are you living your life? Is it balanced? Where are you choosing healthy ways and where are you choosing ways that are going to take you down the path to disease?"