05 October 2007

Alternative Medicine, et al.

I read quite a few blogs that come down hard on alternative medicine, in many cases for good reason. I just wanted to share a non-expert consumer's perspective. There are some points that the professional medicos just seem to not get. At all. Not about the efficacy of treatment; on that, they know more than I do. But about the psychology of patients.

See, I despise going to the doctor. It's expensive. It eats up a lot of time. And the doctor rarely listens to anything I say, beyond a few keywords that register in his language center. From those keywords, and nothing else I've said, he tries to fit a diagnosis. Anything I say that does not go with those keywords is ignored. Actually thinking for myself and asking for clarification is a major no-no. Any questions not on the doctor's mental script are completely out of bounds. Now, I'm sure that not all doctors are like this, but those that aren't seem to be few and far between.

So what do I do? I research on-line. I find out what the likely possibilities are if I'm having odd symptoms. If they're severe enough then, yes, I will find a physician, but that's a very VERY last resort. Are there vitamins I can take that may help? I'll try that. Are there herbs with good research behind them? Great. As far as quality control, the herbal industry does need some regulation, but I do not want to see herbs locked up behind the pharmacy desk. I want to be able to get to them without begging a boon from an autocratic dictator who is certain that I don't know what I'm talking about when I describe my own symptoms.

Case in point. Allergies. Antihistamines do absolutely nothing for my nasal allergy symptoms. Benadryl sort of helps, but it also messes up my breathing, and that's worse. Claritin works about one time in five, but always gives me dry-mouth. I gave up on them a long time ago. Instead, I looked into herbal remedies. There are three that I use. Nettle relieves mild itchy eyes and nose for me, but doesn't do much for anything else. Bromelain provides instant relief from an extreme runny nose. Quercetin is supposed to strengthen the walls of the cells that release histamine, so that not as much histamine gets released into the blood, but has to be taken for a while to have an effect. Between all three of these, I have my allergies under control with no noticeable side effects. (Aside: I'm sure that other people do get side effects from these substances; they just don't bother ME that way).

Regardless of whether a doctor prescribes something or I find it for myself, taking any substance is like spinning a roulette wheel. If the ball goes into the right slot, great. If it doesn't, not so great. With prescriptions, I have to go back and pay the same guy who got it wrong the first time to find me something else. With herbs, I'm out the amount that I spent on the herb and nothing more. Yes, you want to stick with well-known brands, and look into the actual research done on each herb, but for minor complaints, I'll take my chances with herbs and vitamins.

My attitude has nothing to do with not trusting pharmaceutical companies. It has everything to do with despising the inconvenience and hassle of going to a doctor. It's degrading, belittling and very often pointless. I can find out more from twenty minutes on the internet than from two hours in the doctor's office. "But the doctor went to medical school! He knows more than you do!" Doesn't do me any good if he won't even listen to me. It reminds me of a quote from The Usual Suspects: "To a cop the explanation's always simple. There's no mystery to the street, no arch criminal behind it all. If you find a body and you think his brother did it, you're gonna find out you're right." The doctor will always start with his personal "favorite" guess at what's wrong. If you're lucky, he's right. But he's not listening to everything you say. He's going to pick up mostly on the things that tie into his pet hypothesis. The rest will be ignored. He's got too many cases to pay particular attention to your set of details. Only if you don't respond to his favorite regimen will the other details be listened to, and then he'll just grab those that fit his next guess.

Sorry, but if I'm going to be a lab-rat, I'd just as soon be in charge of the experiment. Find me a doctor who listens and cares, and maybe I'll change my mind. You want to know why "alternative" medicine is such big business? Look no further than the behavior of most doctors.


John said...

Herbal remedies are often lumped with alternative medicine, but I think what you are describing isn't quite what is meant.

Herbal remedies are the basis of a lot of modern, evidence-based medicine. No one is going deny that, say, willow-bark tea soothes minor pains. Modern doctors don't prescribe it because for most people aspirin is much more effective.

As for the attitude common to modern doctors, I agree.

But that attitude is not exclusive to doctors. A lot of service industries seem to be dropping the "service" part.

I've had mechanics act like they were doing me a special favor by looking at my car, wait staff act like I should be grateful that they bothered to take my order. There's a reason I do most of my shopping online.

These days quantity seems to be far more profitable than quality.

Qalmlea said...

Yeah, the "official" definition of alternative medicine isn't what I think of when I hear the term. I think "alternative to going to see a doctor." So by that definition, herbs count.

And I think that the same reasoning holds for a lot of people who turn to even the more quackish alternatives: it's better than going to see a doctor. Improving physician attitude wouldn't erase the alternatives, but it might make them less attractive.