Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

CAM in medical schools: A marketing tool?

Fellow ScienceBlogger (I’m not all that enamored of the term “SciBling”) Abel Pharmboy has finally weighed in on the issue of alternative medicine woo finding its way into medical school curricula and its promotion by the American Medical Student Association, which Dr. RW, Joseph, and I have been discussing the last few days.

Besides using his experience in natural products medicine to discuss this issue, Abel asks a very pointed question from a patient’s perspective:

So, someone like me who feels a doctor doesn’t have time for them might approach any one of the growing number of integrative medicine centers within our nation’s top academic medical centers (or a similar practice setting in the community). Will such a person be met by a trained MD or some questionably-credentialled “professional?” This point is the single greatest threat to the use of CAM within conventional medicine. Will they be told that their asthma is the result of unprocessed grief, or problem with the flow of their Qi, or that a simple mindfulness-based meditation program can help resolve their asthma?

That is indeed the question. My argument has been that these programs may be started with the best of intentions and a determination to remain evidence-based, but they tend not to stay that way. The reason is because the development and teaching of these curricula are very prone to be being taken over by true believers, for the simple reason that most conventional doctors devoted to evidence-based medicine do not have that much interest in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) topics; certainly, most of them don’t have the same passion to apply EBM and science to CAM that the practitioners have to practice and market CAM. Moreover, many of the true believers turn out to be, as Abel informs us, “pseudoexperts.”

I’ll have more to say about this sometime next week (I’ve found a real doozy of an example), but I want to thank Abel for making me aware of an additional resource about which I had previously been unaware, Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies (FACT). It’s a tool to add to my armamentarium along with The Scientific Review of Alternative Medicine.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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