Western Medicine; As We Know It Today…The Only Way To Go?

Very often when we think of the evolution of medicine, or as we refer to it "Western Medicine”, we think as far back as 2000 years ago with Galen in Rome or perhaps 2500 years ago with Hippocrates in Greece. We often sit back and think of how ancient that was…and how primitive that was. How did anyone survive? We might think of Harvey’s exposure of the circulatory system through direct observation in the 1500s – 1600s as one of the key revolutions in "our” practice of modern medicine. How primitive must we have been before these "major” advances?

Perhaps it was a microscope and/or the discovery of a microbial world, or Versalius’ opening up the structure of the human body via dissection that catapulted us from primitive medicine to modern medicine. A number of scientists over a period of almost 75 years came up with "discoveries,” however, Von Leeuwenhoek’s work in the late 1600s when he first saw "cells”, in many opinions, was a medical breakthrough of enormous value. Furthermore, perhaps the advent of antibiotics was the defining moment of Western Medicine as we practice it today.

Some would argue that the concept of our Western Medicine was actually tied to advances in technology, either diagnostically, surgically, and/or therapeutically. Of course those with a pure science orientation might feel that Western Medicine as we know it was/is dependent upon our evolution of "scientific thinking”, meaning the reliance on being able to recreate experimentation and field testing in order to establish provable, credible, and predictable results.

For many, from whatever perspective Western Medicine has been viewed, it has been accepted that "our” medicine was the real and only "sound” medicine to practice. However, there are some concerns with this thinking. Isn’t it possible that the ancient medicines that have been practiced for thousands and thousands of years might have something to offer us? Indian medicine can be traced back 10,000 years, traditional Chinese medicine has existed almost as long, and records of Egyptian medicine show similar long-standing interpretations.

We may not agree with the opening up of one’s skull, as was done in ancient medicine, as a feasible way of treating an illness. Certainly we have come a long way in modern brain surgery. However, there are other conditions that were successful and might still be credible today, in either treatment or diagnosis. For example, how long did we look down our noses at the practice of acupuncture before we finally recognized an acceptable use for this practice? Today we see more and more contemporary clinicians going back to school for training in acupuncture so they may incorporate it into their practices.

There are ancient Egyptian depictions of a musician playing an instrument alongside of someone (presumably a "healer” or a "physician”) performing a medical procedure on a patient. The common interpretation is that they somehow incorporated music into their medical practice. Aren’t we doing this now? Most of the "complementary” medical practices revolve around a philosophy that: 1) one cannot treat the body without also treating the mind/spirit; 2) disease or disorder is natural and thus the body tends to naturally "resolve” itself; and 3) anything that is introduced into the body should be "natural” and therefore "naturally” compatible with the "natural” structure and function of the body.

Isn’t our medical training and practice becoming more and more involved in the nutrition of our patients? Historically, nutrition was left up to the dieticians and was not an integral part of medical training. Don’t we now make more use of herbs in our "prescription medicine?” Aren’t we now incorporating more understanding of nutrition (and the use of natural foods) on a disease by disease basis in our medical training?

The ancient Greeks worshiped the body and encouraged sport for maintaining good health. They professed a sound body equals a sound mind. Quite recently the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) proposed a philosophy in which exercise should be considered as another medicine. The point being that natural exercise can be selectively preventative and/or curative. The ACSM philosophy is like a 3-pronged program that would educate the public, practicing clinicians, and those that educate clinicians, on the values of exercise being considered medicine.

When we look at TCM or the Traditional Indian (Near-eastern) Medicine, we see that they recognized how close a healthy mind/spirit was to a healthy physical condition and how closely related an unhealthy body was to a disturbed mind/spirit. More and more, during the past half century, we see a closer recognition of the mind, behavior, and the many ways that behavior affects the physical self, and vice-versa. Aren’t we becoming more and more concerned with including the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness in the training and practicing of our clinicians?

We do not believe in, nor subscribe to, the existence of "meridians” (in TCM) as conduits for energy or Srotas (the counter parts in Ayurveda, a form of Indian Medicine). However, we concern ourselves with the effects of our medicines on the energy levels of our patients; or the effects of our patients’ energy levels on their treatments and general health.

From a totally different perspective, shouldn’t we have some idea as to how our patient must have been treated before coming to us? After all, we are recognizing our existence to becoming more global. We, as clinicians, are bound to see more and more patients who have been/are being treated by "complementary” or "alternative” medicines. Wouldn’t it be in our patients’ best interests if we understood more about these medicines, and even "complemented” their treatment when or wherever possible?

Do we continue to learn and practice medicine in our "traditional” understanding? If this were the case, we’d either still be "leeching” as a cure-all; and/or we’d never have come up with, for example, dialysis!

Is our western medicine, as we know it today…..the only way to go?


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