New Eisenberg Report

Dr. David Eisenberg of Beth Israel Hospital at Harvard University has written a new report telling doctors how to talk to their patients about alternative health ideas and practitioners. Dr. Eisenberg was principle author of a landmark 1993 study that showed one-third of the American public had tried an alternative health practice.

In this report, he notes that the number of patient visits to practitioners of alternative therapies in the United States now surpasses visits to traditional physicians. He notes communication as the key to addressing "the challenge of discussing alternative therapies with our patients and put an end to the 'don't ask, don't tell' approach that characterizes communication in this area."

Eisenberg says that "little is known …about the safety, efficacy, mechanism of action and cost-effectiveness of individual alternative therapies." Open doctor-patient dialogue key. Doctors should know what therapies, traditional or alternative the patient is involved in. During discussions the physician should remain neutral to elicit the most direct and honest responses from the patient.

He encourages doctors to ask and patients to tell about use of alternative health practices. He recommends that consumers seek services of licensed alternative health practitioners. He also recommends that alternative therapy be tried after the patient has had a complete medical evaluation," been advised of conventional paths to treatment and "has tried or exhausted conventional therapeutic options."

Eisenberg believes that may less scientific approaches can be of real benefit to patients and that the benefits can outweigh the risk. The worst course any doctor can take is one in which he attempts to shut the door on the patient's desire for less-than-scientific treatments with the patient left to secretly pursue alternative therapies. "No patient should feel that their medical journey is to be taken alone or according to some stealth trajectory, invisible to conventional providers." Eisenberg says, "The delivery of medical care, like the experience of illness, is best viewed as a journey shared.

("Doctors Advised on Alternative Care" from the Annals of Internal Medicine as reported by Reuters News Service On-Line, July 7, 1997)

ŠKunz and Kunz 2004
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